Omotenashi: The Japanese Culture of Service Excellence

Omotenashi: The Japanese Culture of Service Excellence

The Japanese art of Omotenashi is core to the ethos of Marked By Luxury and has a close meaning to hospitality, but takes the notion far further than in the Western paradigm. According to Omotenashi one has to put their heart into delivering the most excellent service imaginable. The Marked By Luxury Omotenashi section of The Masterclass is based on enshrining the understanding that luxury service is always about the one-to-one relationship, and that it differs from situation to situation.


The word has no direct equivalent in the English language, so an understanding of its true meaning has to come through personal experience rather than knowledge. Omotenashi captures the way in which Japanese hosts pay attention to detail and the anticipate their guests’ needs. Omotenashi is best described as the Japanese spirit of hospitality. 


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 an 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 Chakai Tea

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.

Image via Toki Tokyo

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 modern Tokyo, tea ceremonies can range from authentically traditioanal, to ones with a much more modern twist. Both are excellent ways to truly understand Japanese omotenashi, and show us how the concept continues to adapt and live on in modern times.

“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.”


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