In September 2013, Tokyo successfully applied to host the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.
The highlight of the Tokyo presentation to the IOC members was television personality, Christel Takigawa's speech in French when she said the words 'Omotenashi,' お も て な し. Apparently, many Japanese people had never heard this word before or they didn't know what it meant. (They do know it now, believe me.)
Anyway, what is this omotenashi about? The short answer is I don't know. Well, I do but not really. It is one of these Japanese concepts that can be difficult to explain.
This is how I understand or how I learnt it. Omotenashi basically means hospitality and it is about anticipating your guest's needs.
I'll give you an example. Lets say you are going to a customer or client's company for a meeting. It is a hot sunny day, about 36 degrees celsius and you are sweating like a pig. You have your jacket hanging over your arm which means your arm is now all sweaty. You arrive to the customer's air conditioned office. You are asked to sit in the meeting room. A woman (99% of the time it is a woman) will bring you a glass of cold green tea. They may even bring you a cold towel to wipe the sweat off.
Sounds nice right? It is, especially the cool towel. However, I can't stand green tea. It just doesn't go with my palate. The thing is I don't know what to say or do. I've lived in this country for a few years now and I still don't know the etiquette. They have taken the time to prepare this stuff for you and you turn your nose up at it is probably not the best thing. However I don't like green tea. I don't want to drink it.
Contrast this to what may happen in New Zealand.
"Would you like a hot or cold drink?"
"A hot drink please."
"Tea or coffee."
"Would you like milk?"
"Just a dash."
"Would you like sugar?"
"Two sugars please."
I was explaining this to a co-worker a few years ago and what he said was, "Shit! That sounds like hard work."
Lets have a look at the conversation. There are one, two, three, four decisions that we have to make in a short space of time. This is just not part of the culture to make these decisions. You always have to consult with your group and lets say that you are at the meeting with your boss, then you might have to consult with him or her and you can see that just plonking the green tea in front of you makes everything easier.
Japan seems to taking great pleasure in this whole omotenashi thing. I think that the jury is still out on it as everyone is different and you can't paint people with the same brush. What one person may find hospitable another person may turn their nose up at it.
It will be interesting to see in the future as more and more tourists come to this country what changes if any will occur. Watch this space.