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"Omotenashi": Philosophy of Japanese Hospitality

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"Omotenashi": Philosophy of Japanese Hospitality


How many of you have heard the word "omotenashi" before? This word essentially translates to Japanese hospitality and has grown in popularity since its use in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics candidate speech. Omotenashi captures the way in which Japanese hosts pay attention to detail and the anticipate their guests' needs.


The concept of omotenashi is said to have been established by the grandfather of the Japanese tea ceremony, Sen no Rikyu, through his ways of entertaining his guests through chakai (Japanese tea ceremony). In a chakai, each experience is “ichigo ichie” or a once in a lifetime experience. Thus, it is said that both the host and the guest must act with sincerity.

For the host, this act of sincerity requires immense preparation so that each guest can have the most memorable experience possible. It sometimes takes up to a year to prepare for a single tea ceremony because the host needs to select the right flowers, tea set, hanging scroll and confections to match the season and the guests’ preferences. If the host cannot find the perfect tea cup for the guests from their own collection, they will continue to searching everywhere until they find the perfect match. Tea masters say this is the most difficult aspect, but also the most creative and intellectually interesting part of the process, which will determine the success of the actual ceremony.

Therefore, the invisible thought and care that goes behind choosing the most suitable decorations and teaware for each guest is essential for omotenashi.

The host prepares the tea in front of the guests. ©TOKI

In a chakai the tea is prepared in front of the guest. The preparation starts from cleaning the ceramic cup, which is performed in a methodological and ritualistic way. By making preparation public, the host expresses that there is nothing hidden-and proves their honesty. One of the roots of the word omotenashi is the phrase “omote-ura nashi” literally meaning “there is no front or back” - just as there is no front or back to a chakai. Instead, the guests are provided with genuine hospitality, true from the heart of the host.

The goal of the chakai is to serve the best tea to the guests. The second root of the word omotenashi comes from the Japanese phrase meaning “to accomplish through both conceptual and physical objects.” Only with the combination of the best materials—such as teaware, flowers, and the host’s intention to provide hospitality—can good tea be served to the guests. Through ritualistic bows and a set of procedures, each guest drinks the tea, appreciates the ceramic ware, and returns the empty bowl to the host. Every movement has a meaning. While omotenashi relies heavily on the host, it also requires the guest’s cooperation to be complete. 


In the West, “service” generally refers to the relationship between the service provider and the customer.  Transactions between the two entail service fees and returns that are most often monetary.

One of the main differences between "service" and Japanese hospitality (omotenashi) is that Western service is often done with the hope that customers will pay for a product or an additional service, whereas omotenashi is performed without an expectation of anything in return. Unlike in Western culture where it is appreciated (and sometimes even expected) to tip for good service, there is no charge for omotenashi.

Japanese hospitality is often not as visible as "service" and is frequently intangible. It is in the things not done as much as what is done. Service can sometimes be somewhat forward or blatant in order to remind the customer that they are being provided a product. On the other hand, omotenashi is frequently invisible to the customer and essentially should never intentionally remind the customer of the hospitality. The tea master's dedication to find the right teaset for the guest is a perfect example of this act of invisible hospitality.


Even in present day, Japanese culture stresses the importance of new encounters, illustrating the degree to which the spirit of omotenashi has permeated Japanese daily life. It has guided the way an individual hosts a guest at home, to how customers are treated at restaurants, to how business partners treat each other. 

Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591), the great tea master who started the tradition of what we call chado or "tea ceremony" today, left us a learning philosophy about omotenashi for hosting his everyday guests:  

“Because life is full of uncertainty, one must engrave in his heart the events of the day as if there is no tomorrow. Today’s tea ceremony is a once in a lifetime experience, and one, along with his guests, must wholeheartedly approach the meeting with sincerity.”

Through the experiences we offer, we promise to demonstrate the concept of omotenashi for every one of our guests to the fullest extent.

Read the full original article by TOKI here.