In Japan, the customer is God, and sometimes that means going above and beyond to please with distinctive styles of service.
A lot has been said about the omotenashi spirit of excellent hospitality that exists in Japan, built upon the tenet of “ichi-go ichi-e” (“one time, one meeting”), which highlights the importance of making each encounter the best it possibly can be. This kind dedication to satisfying people’s needs can be seen throughout the country’s customer service industry, resulting in an impressive level of service that’s become one of the main draws for visitors. According to Japanese portal site Naver Matome, this type of service can often surprise unsuspecting foreigners, as a trip to a store or restaurant here quickly becomes a lesson in unique styles of behaviour not often seen overseas, and they’ve come up with five points of note, which they say are surprising, and sometimes uncomfortable, for foreign visitors.
The big send-off
After you’ve made a purchase at a store in Japan, it’s not uncommon for the sales clerk to walk with you as you exit the shop, dutifully carrying your bagged-up item with them, before ceremoniously handing it to you and then thanking you with a bow as you go on your way. While this type of service is usually relegated to traditional shops and fashion stores, it’s a style of service that can be seen in a number of other industries, like car retailers and hoteliers, and even petrol stations, where they’ll walk with you to the front of their establishment, and guide you safely into traffic before bowing deeply several times until you disappear from sight. While this sense of hospitality and care is incredibly thoughtful, the ceremonious send-off can also make some customers feel a little uncomfortable, with a sense of pressure on them to accept the service graciously while the eyes of staff are firmly on them as they do their best to make a dignified exit.
Rather than make eye contact with a broad smile and a casual greeting, staff in Japan will pierce your ears with loud cries of “irasshaimase!” (“welcome!”) and “arigatou gozaimasu” (“thank you”) as you enter and leave the store. After you’ve been here a while, the incessant, and often incredibly nasal, welcome greetings can begin to grate on your nerves, particularly at the supermarket, when store clerks will yell out a welcome without making eye contact whenever a customer comes close to them in the aisles. However, some never tire of the enthusiastic greeting culture, especially when it creates a bustling, exciting atmosphere at lively dining establishments like izakaya pub-style eateries.
English Menus and Western Cutlery
Sometimes a well-meaning attempt to accomodate foreign tourists can end up being a blow to those who come to Japan eager to try out their well-practised Japanese skills. Even when it could be just as easy to point-and-order from a photo-laden Japanese menu, some restaurants will swiftly replace it with an English one, before you even get to lay eyes on one of the exquisitely written kanji on the page. Depending on where you go, some will even bring out a fork, with or without chopsticks, when the meal is served, which can sometimes be helpful, but at the same time, it can also take away from the thrill of an authentic Japanese experience.
Another surprising element of Japanese customer service can be seen on the roads and in car parks across the country, with uniformed traffic wardens guiding vehicles with glowing rods and elegant hand signals. While the need for their presence is warranted at festivals and large events, it’s often surprising to see them standing dutifully outside near-empty carparks at supermarkets and family restaurants, ready to help customers where parking is usually a straightforward, uncomplicated affair.
Japan is known for its safety, and the extreme attention to care and detail can be seen at construction sites around the country. Whether it’s rows and rows of cutely adorned metal railings or construction staff standing beside temporary plates on the footpath with megaphones asking people to watch their step, the careful, courteous attitude given to passers-by is just another example of the way Japan goes above and beyond to look after the people around them.
This list of five surprising, and sometimes uncomfortable, types of Japanese service has just scratched the surface of an extensive client-oriented industry filled with a huge array of tiny details designed to please and accommodate the all-important customer. What types of surprising service would you add to the list?