In Japan there is an intrinsic, deep-rooted belief that it is possible to do anything and everything with excellence. Over the last three weeks we’ve seen how this is played out in their approach to coffee. We thought we’d share some of our musings with you. Today we look at their approach to hospitality and next week we will look at how this has influenced coffee.
A different way of doing things….
From toilets, transportation systems, electronics, cosmetics, sushi and more, the Japanese strive to provide the best possible product and service for their customers. Whatever the task the Japanese commit themselves to it fully.
The concept of ‘kaizen’ (改善) is steeped in Japanese tradition. Kaizen is difficult to translate but basically means seeking continual improvement. Kaizen implies a pursuit for perfection, something that can be seen in so many things in Japan including coffee. Your cocktail will have been perfected over multiple trial attempts – one particular highlight was an oak smoked Old Fashioned with cinnamon and homemade bitters. The broth of your ramen perfected over decades of adaptations making it mind-blowingly tasty.
Not only is there a drive for perfection, but there is also a deep founded respect and honour in every task the Japanese undertake. For the Japanese every person has a role to play towards the collective. There is no “me,” only the “we”. Everyone takes pride in their work and does it to the best of their ability because they realise their output will affect everyone else.
In individualistic societies, like the UK, the common belief is that if you strive for your own self-interest this will automatically help with the interests of your society. In Japan, the belief is reversed. If you give your utmost to serve your company, customers, and society, then this will automatically serve your own self-interest. This is why Japanese companies are known for having incredible customer service.
The Japanese have a word for this. Omotenashi – it is about grace and courtesy towards others, the literal translation is to entertain guests wholeheartedly.
This approach leads to a culture which values everyone’s role in society and therefore people take huge pride in their roles, it leads to a sense of respect for customers, providing the best possible product and service.
What’s more, contrary to Western cultures, which places the server below the customer, omotenashi is a non-dominant relationship. Even though the customer is respected, omotenashi is practiced as if server and customer are on the same level.
The UK could learn a lot from this approach. The Japanese see service as something that everyone should be involved in. It’s part of the well-lived life. It’s a noble thing.
In our ideal future, we hope that the UK will better appreciate the role of hospitality. That the people who do it well are respected– and correspondingly well paid. In our ideal future, service would have the high prestige it deserves.