What’s the difference between “Omotenashi” and “service”?

Do you think it’s true that the Japanese have a heart of “omotenashi”? Today, we’d like to introduce three Omotenashi spirits that Japanese ladies and gentlemen need to remember.

What “Omotenashi” is all about? 

It’s one of the bad things about the Japanese to be willing to use a certain word without deeply thinking its meaning just because it’s popular.

(1) Polite expression for a Japanese verb “motenasu” — being hospitable to guest

“Omotenasi” as it is known today, comes from a Japanese verb “motenasu”, meaning “entertain a guest”. We use this verb when saying “Kyaku wo motenasu” (we entertain a guest). The source of “motenasu” comes from “to achieve what you want by means of something”, which refers to how to treat a guest or treatment that one offers a guest. By “something”, it means two kinds of things; both visible and invisible.

(2) “Uraomotenashi” — straightforward and truthful

As the Japanese word “ura-omotenashi” means itself, it signifies a welcome extended to a guest with a truthful mind. These above two meaning 1) and 2) are generally thought to be an origin of “omotenashi”.

What is “Omotenashi” spirit? 

(1) You need to take care of others beyond their expectations

Can you see the difference between “omotenashi” and “service”? When a waiter brings you an oshibori (a small damp towel to wipe dirty on hands) at a restaurant, it’s classified into “service”, so is the case with when a waitress lays out a futon for you at a Japanese traditional hotel.

What makes the difference between “omotenashi” and “service” then?
If we can take the case above in explaining omotenashi, when a waiter brings the small towel at a restaurant, if he says, “I know you’ve worked so hard today. You must have been tired. I hope you could have a good rest” or something similar, it’s supposed to be “omotenashi”. When a waitress puts a message card with kind words written something like “I’m hoping that you have a good sleep!” just next to a futon she’s just prepared, you can call it “omotenashi”.
In other words, to the extent that a customer can imagine what treatment they receive is no more than “service”. “Omotenashi” is some extra care extended to customers and should give them an unexpected pleasant experience.
“omotenashi” purely comes from warm feelings and sincerity extended to others. Only those who can extend sensible thoughtfulness to others can be real ladies and gentlemen.

(2) You should never expect return

In overseas countries, when you receive service at a restaurant, you are supposed to give some tips to a waiter/waiteress. They pay tips as service fees provided by the person who served your table (not compulsorily but voluntarily though). How about Japan? From 5-star restaurants/hotels to convenience stores at sideways, on one level or another, every customer is treated politely and equally for free of charge. Only those who can extend sensible thoughtfulness to others can be ladies and gentlemen

It’s one of the good points about the Japanese to pay respect and to be polite to others. This is exactly what “omotenashi” is all about. This is not limited only to business. Being polite to others with expecting no return is “omotenashi”. Those who can do this are ladies and gentlemen.

(3) You should set aside time for “consideration”

Yes, we’ve learned that what “omotenashi” attitude should be like. Having said that, it would be difficult to suddenly change our everyday behavior. What’s important here is to keep that in your mind as your credo and to make it a rule to behave in line with that. You need to be generous enough to be sensible to others. Especially, almost all the people spending their entire day working very hard might not have time to contemplate in their everyday life.

Regardless of nationality, it is said that people who were referred to as ladies and gentlemen in the past loved to discuss philosophy. It is because that they could become to look at a lot of things from different perspectives, enabling them to be flexible and responsive enough to deal with day-to-day situation.

There are so many ways to nurture your personality – being absorbed in reading, or going to the museum to admire great pieces of work, for example. The best way to be a real lady or gentleman is to start with looking at true self and to make an effort so that we’d be able to extend true “omotenashi” mind to others.

Kimono as the Japanese culture

Kunio Yanagida (July 31, 1875-August 8, 1962), known as the father of Japanese native folkloristics, or minzokugaku, analyzed the Japanese culture focusing on a cyclical rhythm comprised of two different types of events: “hare” and “ke”.
Events of “hare” includes “shogatsu” (new year holidays), “obon” (a unique vacation season in summer to welcome spirits of their ancestors) and any other extraordinary events while “ke” means just ordinary daily life. Yanagida pointed out that boundary between “hare” and “ke” blurred as Japan modernized itself. This trend has also been observed in the world of Kimono.

Kimono made of tsumugi is supposed to be no more than daily clothing

Good example is Kimono made of tsumugi.
“Ohshima tsumugi and Yuuki tsumugi is made with very traditional technique, which makes some of them very expensive all the more. Having said that, tsumugi was originally made of thread coming from waste cocoons which had no use of producing raw silk even though it’s categorized as ‘silk fabric’, it was meant for peasants’ daily clothing”, said Taizo Takahashi, owner of a high-end kimono store in Kyoto. Takahashi’s late father opened the store in Kyoto. Takahashi opened his flag store in Ginza, Tokyo in 2001. He has also presented kimono to the Imperial family and worked on Kabuki costumes.

He also added, “Surprisingly enough, some people choose tsumugi Kimono and wear Fukuro Obi, obi used for extraordinary events, on the occasion of tea ceremony. Even if it’s expensive and beautiful, I think it’s not just appropriate to wear tsumugi on formal and official occasions like a tea ceremony. It might be acceptable to put on tsumugi on the occasion of a personal casual tea party or so-called oyose chakai (a large tea party); however, it would be safe and recommended to wear Kimono of better quality such as houmongi or tsukesage which are more suitable for formal events like hatsugama.”

Takahashi maintains that as long as the Chado (tea ceremony) contains the word “do”, it falls into a category of culture which attaches a great importance to traditional practice. If something deviates from its standard, it looks strange and inappropriate. Even if you use obi of best quality, you can never upgrade the class of tsumugi. In addition, you just can’t wear Kimono and obi each of which comes from a different class.

You have to pick up appropriate class of Kimono for seeing a kabuki play

For those who attend not only tea ceremony, but also kabuki play seeing, it used to be a common sense to pick up an appropriate class of Kimono.

“It is said that Okujochu (a woman in waiting in the inner part of a lord’s mansion in the Edo period) and Gonaigi (a wife of an influential merchant) changed Kimono many times just to see a play. Especially at a time when a show with an all-star cast was held at Minamiza in Kyoto, almost all the audience had their Kimono customized for the special occasion. Even now, some ladies wear irotomesode or houmongi to visit the first day or closing day of a performance of announcing the succession to another’s stage name. Their presence gives added grace to the occasion itself and the venue”, said Takahashi.

He continued, “I think it’s OK now to wear casual clothing for kabuki seeing since the times have changed. You don’t necessarily have to be sensitive to a class of Kimono to go to kabuki plays which are for amusement. At least, you need to be aware of that it’s just not appropriate to wear yukata or coordinate a frilled collar with your Kimono when going to Kabuki-za, the greatest authority in the entertainment field.”

Drawing a line between the area that requires a clear-cut demarcation between “hare” and “ke” and the area that doesn’t necessarily need distinction can be interpreted as making a distinction between the two in a way.

In spite of Takahashi’s sense of crisis, more and more people have cared less about grade of kimono to wear on the occasions such as wedding ceremony and reception which require highest rank of dress code.
It was not only mothers of a newly-wed couple, but also married women in the law who attended a ceremony and reception used to wear kurotomesode.
To our regret, the order and production quantity of the kurotomesode have been on the decline. This is because younger couples no longer ask anyone to be their Nakodo (the go-between who arranges the match between a man and a woman for their marriage) for their wedding. Also, other than mothers of a couple, less and less women wear kurotomesode on such occasions.

Black is not unglamorous at all.

One of the reasons why kurotomesode has become less popular than before is that people are seated at a table at a wedding reception. Here in Japan, guests used to get down on their knees on the floor so the patterns located around the knees on the kimono were seen. But at a table, we can only see the chest area without knee area at a table. This is why many women have found it somber and become less willing to wear kurotomesode.

Takahashi pointed out, “The idea itself is not correct. “Black” is the noblest color encompassing all the colors. Up until the Edo period, dying kimono with the color of beautiful black required considerable degree of efforts – from extracting liquid from a betal palm tree to using it for iron mordanting.

It was not until the Edo period that black-dying technique called “sandoguro” using chemical dye was established. This “sandoguro” dying technique made it possible to mass-produce quality kurotomesode. Dye artisan, especially who dyed kimono with the color of black used to be regarded as a job of higher rank.

Although it is kurotomesode that are the most formal kimono for married women, according to protocol, they are not allowed to wear when you’re invited to the Imperial court.

“Instead of kurotomesode, married women wear irotomesode on the occasions when they are invited to Imperial Court. It was my father, the late head of the family, made the first irotomesode and paved the way for it to establish itself as one new genre of ebamono.
On the day when Empress Michiko left her parents’ home to get married to Empress Akihito, the mother of Her Highness, Mrs. Tomiko Shouda saw her off at the porch wearing irotomesode. I’m humbly proud of the fact that my father made that her irotomesode.”

As Kunio Yanagida once said, boundary between one-time “hare” and “ke” blurred. It’s also true that new “hare” and “ke” have been being generated at the same time. What supports them is nothing but the Japanese culture and tradition.

Japanese kitchen utensils

Japanese kitchen utensils have been drawing more and more attention around the world.
Originally, the Japanese knife cuts well, which has been highly appreciated by cooks worldwide. In addition to the Japanese knife, a wide variety of Japanese kitchen utensils have started being valued around the world.

“Japanese kitchen utensils are meticulously manufactured and have a variety of selections in size. They are some of the aspects why Japanese kitchen utensils are highly supported worldwide.

Daisuke Kumazawa, fourth-generation owner of Kamaasa Shouten, a long-standing store specialized in kitchen utensils established in 1908, in Kappabashi, Tokyo. Kumazawa often displays his selected items at exhibitions held in overseas countries such as Paris.
Kumazawa says, “What we Japanese take it for granted sometimes surprises people in different countries”.

For example, their store, Kamaasa Shouten handles over 1,000 knives in more than 80 kinds, which is an astonishing number not only for foreigners but also the Japanese. However, it is not limited only to Japanese knives. Items such as bowls, strainers and trays also have a wide variety of selections. Kumazawa says that this very user-friendliness of Japanese items may be one of the reasons why they are well received around the world.

According to Kumazawa, there exist strenuous efforts being made by Japanese cooks behind an increasing popularity of the “user-friendliness” of kitchen utensils.

“There are so many Japanese cooks who have been playing an important role in the kitchens at many famous restaurants around the world. When they let a fellow cook use their knives, they are very surprised at how easily they can cut ingredients. This is how foreigners start being interested in Japanese knives,” says Kumazawa.

He added, “The fundamental approach is different between Japanese knives and western ones. One of the expressions that is frequently used when using Japanese knife is “Sashimi wo hiku” (slide a knife horizontally against fish meat for sashimi, by which you can cut fish meat delicately and beautifully). In contrast, western knives are intended to use vertically against meat.

Because of a lot of Japanese successful cooks and highlight shed on molecular gastronomy, delicacy is a sought-after factor in the global food industry more than ever before. Kumazawa analyzes that, backed by this world trend, tons of cooks have found Japanese kitchen utensils useful all the more.

Having said that, you can purchase a complete set of kitchen utensils at a very reasonable price when you go to so called a hundred-yen store. Also, quality utensils require extensive care on a regular basis. Even so, why do you still need to use good and quality utensils? “The answer to that question lies in ‘growing’ of those utensils”, says Kumazawa in his book released recently.

He added, “From the moment of purchase, some utensils start following a path to deterioration. If you purchase this kind of utensils, you have to keep purchasing an alternative when it ruins. On the other hand, if you purchase a good and quality one, the longer you use, the better hand touch it would give to you, which gives a profound and even glamorous atmosphere to its appearance.” (excerpt from “Kamazasa Shouten’s guide to ‘kitchen utensils’”)

Of course, you can expect a lot of benefits in practical aspects by using good and quality utensils – you can not only cook ingredients tender but also use the items for tens of years, even for the rest of your life. From that perspective, it would be recommended for you to consider a choice of what price range would be best suited to your lifestyle and values.

For example, if an expensive material is used to the handle of a knife or if special design is put on the blade of a knife, the price tends to be expensive. However, the materials and design are not directly linked to sharpness of a blade. In other words, higher price cannot necessarily be translated as good quality. You should go to a specialty store and listen to explanation you need to know from an expert before making a big decision. In the internet, you’re recommended to check the specialized article as follows,

Kamaasa Shoten’s policy is to focus on letting customers know about the real nature of each utensils. They not only show them the place of manufacturing and the process of manufacturing but also by hold a seminar to explain the details and a lecture on how to take care of them both at their store in Japan and at the exhibitions overseas.

Kumazawa concluded, “I always put a tremendous effort into selling a knife to a person”.