For anyone who has been to Japan, one of the things that they would surely remember from their visit would be Japan’s seemingly excellent service standards. This applies for from the moment the tourist lands in Japan, where an officer is stationed to make sure luggage on the travel belt falls onto the receiving belt properly, to train drivers announcing every single station as they enter it despite an already previous automatic voice playback, and of course up to the friendly and kind mannerisms of the hotels and restaurants that tourists will end up visiting. Lucky tourists would even find a local leading them to their destinations when they were lost instead of simply pointing it out on the map – just to make sure that they end up where they had intended to.
In fact, there is rarely a place one can walk about in Japan (especially in the cities) without encountering some form of personal touches, such as around construction areas where you would notice a safety officer constantly on standby to warn passersby if they haven’t already seen the fencing and signs themselves.
Why does Japan have such a focus on providing human services to things that can, in fact, be done without much help (for example having elevator ladies in a department store or having the cashier staff of a store carrying your purchase for you and following you to the exit while bowing as you leave the door)?
Most would say it is because this ideal is grounded in their notions of omotenashi which loosely translates into providing services for the customer beyond their expectations and entertaining them sincerely and wholeheartedly. Generally, the staff would need to anticipate what their customers would need and deliver before their customers even knew they needed them (such as hot towels to wipe their hands before a meal on a cold winters’ day as opposed to just wet tissue in packets, or even counting out the bills in a change in front of the customer out loud just to ensure that correct change is given).
Omotenashi is now used by the Japanese to describe their unique approach to hospitality.
Unfortunately, a declining population and low unemployment rate mean that there is now a lack of human resources needed to maintain this Japanese tradition. Although many corporations are turning to digital solutions to manage the labor shortage such as increasing self-checkout machines at restaurants or having robots greet customers at the door, there are still some places that prefer a human touch and hence, they are increasingly looking to hiring non-Japanese from overseas.
What may some challenges be for these foreign-born employees though? First and foremost would be the language barrier required in a high people-oriented service industry. Fortunately, in the Japanese language, there is generally a set number of phrases that tend to be repeated and so studying to get this initial level of communication is not too difficult. Customers in Japan would still tend to be mostly Japanese people (even with an increasing number of tourists to Japan), so speaking in Japanese and understanding basic Japanese is required.
To combat the labor shortage, apart from singing MOUs with countries like Vietnam, Japan has even introduced a new visa known as the Specified Skilled Workers (SSW) visa that allows non-Japanese to find work easily in these service industries – provided they pass a basic proficiency test.
As a service staff, to be praised for your service standards would only help to boost your morale and motivation, and what better way than to learn from the best in Japan? If you feel you want to learn from the best and try working in Japan in the service industry, you can read more about the SSW visa here or here or browse for jobs in these industries from our site here.