Gastronomer Lifestyle_Unwrapping Omotenashi with Tomomi Kitagawa

Unwrapping Omotenashi with Tomomi Kitagawa

Written by Mika Apichatsakol

August issue ‘Japanese’, 2023 

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Renowned worldwide for highly attentive and meticulously detailed customer service, Japan is truly second to none when it comes to hospitality. While we know Japanese hospitality when we experience it, it is perhaps more complicated to explain how it is done and exactly why it is so remarkable—and that perhaps speaks to the stealth with which the Japanese take care of their guests.

Helping us to understand Japanese hospitality in this issue is Tomomi Kitagawa, The Okura Prestige Bangkok’s Japanese guest relations supervisor, who oversees everything from pre-arrival preparations to check-in and check-out procedures for the esteemed Japanese hotel’s VIP guests. Tomomi talks to Gastronomer Lifestyle about hospitality work, omotenashi, and why ultimately Japanese hospitality is so sought-after and highly-regarded.

Q: When did you decide to get into hospitality and why?

A: After finishing university in Kyoto, Japan, I worked in the fashion industry for a while before I joined Boy Rikyu, a Japanese hair salon here in Bangkok, as its sales and operation manager. During my five years at Boy Rikyu, I realised that I enjoyed the service side of work more than the sales side. In addition to that, I have always liked visiting grand hotels since I was young and used to dream of working at one. However, I thought that it would be impossible since I didn’t study hospitality at the university and didn’t have any experience in this industry. I was fortunate to get a job with The Okura Prestige Bangkok, where I have been for five years now.

Q: The word “omotenashi” often comes up in discussion of Japanese hospitality. How would you define this concept?

A: For me, omotenashi ultimately means to show care for others and to put their well-being and needs first.

Lobby at the Okura Prestige Bangkok

Q: Can you give our readers an example of omotenashi?

A: Yes, of course. At The Okura, we record a guest’s preferences in detail in the system to be able to prepare for their next stay. For example, we make a note of the guest’s use of towels and pillows—how many they like and so on—so that we can prepare the room just as the guest likes. That way, they feel a little like they are coming home every time they stay with us. It is also important to recognise returning guests by name. These things add to the feeling of omotenashi and come to be expected by our guests.

Q: Is omotenashi or good hospitality teachable?

A: I believe anyone can learn to be service-minded—if they really want to. Those who really get it try to turn service into a form of art.

Q: As a Japanese-branded hotel, do you think there are certain expectations guests might have about staying at the Okura?

A: For sure. I have met many guests who love Japan and expect a Japanese style of service. They look forward to calmness, efficiency, and for things to be done properly. 

Q: Why do you think Japanese hospitality is so highly regarded worldwide?

A: I think it is perhaps because the Japanese can be a bit mysterious and humble, which is different from other countries. It is hard to know what the Japanese think sometimes, but with omotenashi, their true feelings are on display—the instinctive urge to make someone feel welcome and comfortable.

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