Omotenashi and Japanese Service

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Omotenashi is a Japanese concept that represents an entire cultural philosophy around hospitality and exceeding customer service expectations. It stems from traditions like tea ceremonies and inn lodging that emphasized attentiveness towards guests.

Key Principles

Several core principles characterize omotenashi and Japanese service culture:

  • Anticipating needs - Intuiting needs and desires without explicit requests.
  • Attention to detail - Noticing and accommodating subtle preferences.
  • Sincerity - Treating guests with genuine care, rather than just a business transaction.
  • Effortlessness - Service delivered elegantly without obvious exertion.
  • Discretion - Being unobtrusive and considerate of privacy.

Omotenashi reflects social values like humility, respect, and harmony. Selflessness and putting others' comfort first are paramount.


Omotenashi can be seen across modern Japanese businesses and services:

  • Retail staff fetch stools for customers awaiting checkout lines.
  • Bathhouse attendants remember preferred soaps and shampoos.
  • Train conductors bow and apologize profusely for 30 second delays.
  • Hotel room service re-fluffs pillows and points A/C vents away while guests are out.
  • This meticulous service philosophy raises customer expectations and satisfaction. It connects to cultural norms of social dignity and honor

Omotenashi and Automation

One notable example of Omotenashi can be seen at some busy train stations in Japan. If a customer is having trouble using the self-serving system, the side of the wall will open so that a employee can help the traveller purchase their tickets.

Applied Omotenashi

A more Western example of Omotenashi applied to automated systems is the online shoe service It assumed that people buying shoes online would fail to find the right shoe the first time, and so they tried to make the experience of sending the shoes back one of ease and delight.


When applying Omotenashi to automated systems, understand that systems fail, but that the experience of failure can be harmonious and always provide a well-paid, well-cared for human backup.