Special FeatureWelcome to the Land of Hospitality
Hakone is a famous hot spring resort about 90 minutes from Tokyo by train. In February 2006, the municipal government launched a campaign to present an award to "masters of the art of hospitality."
The award system was the idea of Yamaguchi Ken, who works in the Tourism Promotion Section at Hakone's municipal office. "We hope the award system will encourage people throughout our town to lay out the welcome mat for tourists."
To qualify for an award, candidates are expected to meet four criteria:
These four factors are considered as a whole and evaluated. The first five masters of the art of hospitality have already been chosen.
Yamaguchi says all masters obviously have a strong attachment to Hakone. "During the recent selection process, we discovered that a love for Hakone makes residents keen to welcome tourists here."
Nakamura Toshio works in Kyoto MK Taxi's limousine division. His claim to fame is the number of times foreign politicians, financiers and Hollywood actors ask specifically for him to chauffeur them about. They have heard that his driving is super smooth — you could place an almost full glass of water in his limousine and probably not a drop would spill out — and he is known to go the extra mile for his passengers.
For example, if he is scheduled to drive a foreign politician, he sets his cell phone so that the ring for incoming calls is a song from the politician's country. If his passenger is a famous Hollywood actor, his phone rings out the theme song of one of the actor's best-known movies. Nakamura also studies up on the history of relations between the visitors' countries and Japan, and learns about their culture beforehand. And he draws and illustrates a map of the famous places toured that day, and gives it to his passenger.
"The map is a souvenir of the good times they had. And to make sure they do have a good time, I think only of them. I'll study up on a lot of things, and if even just one of those pieces of information is useful, that's fine. I treat my passengers as if they are my first ever."
From the way he speaks, it is clear that Nakamura does indeed put his passengers above everything else.