NIPPONIA No. 39 December 15, 2006


Special Featuresp_star.gifWelcome to the Land of Hospitality

Hospitality Pros

Hospitality pros know the secrets to true service: keep your ego in check; always have a smile on your face; go the extra mile. That way, when you finally part with your guest or customer, they will want to see you again.

Written by Torikai Shin-ichi   Photos by Kono Toshihiko


The first rule of hospitality: Stay healthy yourself

Okada Ikuko, tour guide

Tour guide Okada Ikuko at the Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji) in Kyoto, with the Parlons family from England.
(Collaboration: Nippon Travel Agency Co. Ltd.

"For tourists coming from abroad, one recent trend is a stay of about two weeks, with arrival at Tokyo's Narita Airport, then sightseeing in Tokyo, Hakone, Nikko, Kanazawa, Kyoto and other places, then a flight home from Osaka's Kansai Airport. I guide them for almost the whole two weeks. If I didn't stay healthy, I wouldn't be cheerful or be able to properly explain the famous places and everything. So actually, my first responsibility is to look after my own health!" This wisdom comes from Okada Ikuko, a tour guide much appreciated by foreign travelers.

When traveling by bus between tourist spots she may teach them simple origami skills or explain Japanese culture through illustrations she draws herself. "Illustrations make it easier to explain things, like how a Buddhist temple looks different from a Shinto shrine, or how a maiko dancing girl differs from an older geisha entertainer."

So she has to prepare for each tour. And she has to find out about the cities they will visit — facts like new stores the tourists might find interesting, popular souvenirs, and hospitals where English is understood.

"Everyone says they find the Japanese polite. That's nice to hear, but at the same time I have to tell myself that as their guide I can't do or say anything that might make them think otherwise!"


A friendly smile and a genuine consideration for customers

Shimizu Rieko, service attendant at Mitsukoshi Department Store, Nihonbashi, Main Store

Shimizu Rieko (far right), with junior staff members working as receptionists and elevator operators.

Mitsukoshi's roots go back to 1673, making it a truly venerable retail institution with a history of more than 330 years.

"The founder, Mitsui Takatoshi, coined the phrase 'magokoro no seishin' (dedication founded on sincerity). I guess the meaning would be the same as the modern phrase, 'the customer comes first.' His ideal is carried on by our department store today," explains Shimizu Rieko, a service attendant at Mitsukoshi's main store in the Nihonbashi district of central Tokyo.

Mitsukoshi has established a hospitality staff position called service attendant. "Some of our hospitality staff look after customers at one place in the store, like giving information at the reception desk or operating an elevator. Service attendants are different — we move around, helping customers and giving them information in different parts of the store."

If customers want to know where something is sold, she may take them there. Or she may help them carry a large purchase to the store's main entrance. So service attendants have plenty of opportunity to observe conditions in the store and check products. If they see a problem, they report it to fellow staff members, such as the reception or elevator attendants. Sharing information with other staff is essential, and moving around makes service attendants readily available to answer many kinds of questions.

"We always try to give service with a smile, and to be sincere and open with our customers. That way, they'll feel comfortable asking us for what they need."