It’s a beautiful summer day. As you enter the restaurant, a woman wearing a lovely silk kimono awaits your arrival. She bows and greets you, then takes you to your dining room, which is air-conditioned to just the right temperature. She offers you a cool hand towel and some cold tea to refresh you from the heat outside. This is just the beginning of your experience of the spirit of Japanese hospitality—a tradition called Omotenashi.

It wasn’t until I had gone to Japan that I first had the unique experience of Omotenashi, and it took a couple of years before I could truly appreciate it. Everywhere you go in Japan, whether it’s a restaurant, a hotel or a shop, you will most likely encounter Omotenashi. It’s a kind of service that goes to incredible lengths to provide a one-of-a-kind experience to each customer and exceed their expectations. Omotenashi is often provided even before you are able to ask for it. As if the servers are able to to read your mind—and yet it’s done with the subtlest of gestures.

Omotenashi also plays an important part in the experience of Kaiseki, a traditional Japanese multi-course meal. And it’s important to note that the hospitality of Omotenashi is not just a one-way street—it’s about mutual respect, with guests and hosts at the same level. It comes down to the harmony of service. For the server’s part, they must pay attention to the customers to see how they are feeling and make sure any dietary restrictions are met. The customer, on the other hand, must pay attention to the details of what is being served to them and show their appreciation by commenting on and savouring all the details that go into their meal.

As mentioned above, Omotenashi is the subtlest form of service—it may even include the deco-rative displays that welcome you to your dining space, or the dishes being used to present your meal, or the way an ingredient is prepared and served. And the dishes that are served as part of the experience are not just food on a plate. They symbolize seasons, festivals and celebrations—the whole meal is an edible poem. Therefore, careful attention is paid in the preparation and presentation to offer customers the perfect experience.

When it comes to dining, Omotenashi service is provided right from the time you make your reservation. Each dining experience is unique because of the Omotenashi provided by all staff on the floor, from the kitchen to the dining room. This serving tradition keeps with the spirit of a saying in the tea ceremony: Ichigoichie— meaning that every moment is a special, once-in-a-lifetime occasion that should be treasured. Next time you visit a Kaiseki restaurant, pay attention to the details that go into being welcomed and the careful preparation that goes into the dishes. It may take you several visits to understand, but don’t hesitate to ask questions. Your server, after all, is there to help.

 

Omotenashi is often provided before you are even able to ask for it—as if the servers are able to read your mind.