“Japanese people are compulsively, touchingly, almost painfully kind and welcoming to foreigners”
~Richard Lloyd Parry – ‘Japan: Three Cities’
Who wouldn’t be nervous going to a place where you can’t even begin to understand the language or read the signs and where the population has the reputation, gleaned from countless films, of being fearsome at worst, strange at best. The Japanese know this, which is why they go to extraordinary lengths to put you at your ease. Every visitor will have a story of the overwhelming kindness of strangers. If you’re in the middle of Tokyo and, needing to find your bearings, you open a map in the street, within 15 seconds someone will be at your side asking, in faltering English, if they can help. And when you tell them the place you’re looking for they won’t just point you in the right direction – they’ll take you to the door. I was once lost deep on the bowels of the Tokyo underground and asked someone the way and although he was waiting for a train he walked with me up onto the street and took me to my destination.
The sense of hospitality is present everywhere but not least where it matters most – in the hotels and restaurants. In England, hospitality suffers because English people have a dread of appearing servile and so don’t take naturally to waiting on tables. In America, hospitality is driven, very successfully, by the tipping system, but woe betide the customer who fails to give the expected 15%. In Japan, tipping doesn’t exist, in fact the offer of a tip will cause embarrassment, simply because they take pride in doing a job well. That pride, together with a strong work ethic, makes the level of hospitality in Japan second to none. You feel it as soon as you arrive, which is why I’m always itching to return.