FROM Japanese



Tokyo has been chosen by the International Olympic Committee to host the 2020 Summer Olympic and Paralympic games.  At the meeting to choose the host country, Tokyo Olympic bid ambassador Ms. Christel Takigawa used the word "omotenashi" in her speech.  This word has become a buzzword both domestically and abroad.


In kanji and hiragana characters, motenashi is represented as “持て成し.”  In the volume entitled “Suetsumuhana” of “The Tale of Genji*,” a description using motenashi appears as follows.  “Ito warokarishi katachizamanaredo, motenashini kakusarete.  (Her appearance was fairly bad, but her impression was not bad as her manner was graceful.)”  In classic literature of the Heian Period, the word “motenashi” was used to express manners, movement or modesty.  “O” as a prefix character is added to the word, and it becomes “omotenashi.”  These days this word is used to express hospitality, reception or entertainment.


Especially, this word is considered as an important key word in hospitality and service industries.  For example, “a sense of the season” is highly appreciated at old established ryokan.  They attach a great deal of importance to the ingredients, and earthern and porcelain tableware when providing meals to their guests.  A sense of the season is also incorporated into the preparation of guest rooms and the kimono dressing of okami (madams of ryokan).  This way of hospitality has arisen from the respect for nature of the Japanese who cherish the diverse aspects of the four seasons.  A flower casually decorated in a vase reminds guests of the visit of the season.  Such a way of entertaining guests is considered to be a sophisticated “omotenashi” manner in Japan.


Ms. Takigawa expressed omotenashi as the spirit of “selfless hospitality.”  This meaning might be rather similar to the volunteer spirit based on the teachings of Christianity.


It is not always bad to expect returns.  As a Japanese proverb goes, “Nasake wa hito no tamenarazu (Charity is a good investment).”  This proverb expresses a Japanese sense of balance or wisdom.  This is even more the case for business.  Do we act expecting immediate returns or without expecting returns?  Acts or manners differ, depending on how we think about the returns. 


Let me introduce you an episode which is well-known among football fans.  Mr. Ivica Osim, former manager of the Japanese national team, who made great contributions to the development of football in Japan, visited for the first time in 1964 to participate in the Tokyo Olympic Games as a member of Yugoslavia football team.  During his stay in 1964, a Japanese person lent him a bicycle free of charge though they did not know each other.  A Japanese farmer gave him pears.  It is said that these became cherished memories for Mr. Osim.  Those who lent a bicycle or gave pears to him just wanted to entertain a football player who visited Japan from a far country.  But this episode later worked as a bridge between Mr. Osim and Japan.


There are various manners for striking heart strings.  Can we think that we would like to entertain a person in front of us as much as possible without expecting returns?  We will be able to think well about the “spirit” and “manners” of omotenashi during the seven years until the 2020 Tokyo Olympic/Paralympic Games.


(Kenji Suzuki)



*The Tale of Genji

The Tale of Genji is a classic work of Japanese literature written by the Japanese noblewoman and lady-in-waiting Murasaki Shikibu in the early years of the 11th century, around the peak of the Heian period.