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Top>HAKUMON Chuo [2014 Autumn Issue]>[Special Essay] The concept of omotenashi

Hakumon CHUOIndex

Special Essay

The concept of omotenashi

Koresuke Yamauchi
Professor and Doctor of Law, Faculty of Law, Chuo University

I wonder how many people are familiar with the custom of hospitality on the Shikoku pilgrimage which is deeply related to my hometown in Ehime Prefecture. Unlike the current concept of hospitality within business transactions, the hospitality shown to pilgrims is given free of charge. Local residents give food and money offerings to pilgrims walking around Shikoku. Pilgrims are forbidden from refusing such hospitality. Since long ago, this hospitality has been a particularly welcome custom for pilgrims who spend weeks walking between temples. This pilgrimage hospitality is frequently raised as an example of omotenashi (Japanese hospitality). This is because omotenashi is based on the elements of unexpectedness and free of charge.

It is easy to judge the criteria of “free of charge” based on whether or not consideration exists. However, judgment for “unexpectedness” may vary according to the individual depending on whether or not information on hospitality was encountered in advance. For example, hospitality on the Shikoku pilgrimage is a frequent topic of conversation. Therefore, even if there is no detailed information on the specific time and place of hospitality, it becomes an expected act based on anticipation alone. In turn, this anticipation may develop into expectation or even demand for hospitality. In terms of reciprocal customs which are found in many societies, there are cases in which non-compensated actions change into compensated actions through the form of return (including thank-you letters) and souvenirs. There are also some cases of emotional equivalence being prioritized instead of monetary equivalence. When such actions reach a certain scale, business opportunities are created. The line between an action as omotenashi or as an element of business is dependent on supply - demand relationship. As such, such judgment varies according to the individual and cannot be discussed in general.

Even in terms of university education, we must examine individual cases to determine the extent of an action as selfless love based on the spirit of omotenashi, or as an element of the education business. Personally, I am in charge of multiple first periods each academic year. I always try to arrive in the classroom fifty minutes early in order to talk with students. These discussions are held outside of paid time. In addition to providing information and knowledge related to class content, there are also general matters such as those discussed during office hours. From the perspective of someone who believes that classes must start from the scheduled time of 9:20 a.m., such activities are unexpected and inappropriate actions. In fact, such assertions are repeatedly made on class surveys implemented each academic year. However, there is currently an outcry for assuring the quality of education. Universities must continually strive to show specific results of education, guiding students on proper timing and actions during job-search activities. Amidst such conditions, instructors must take various special measures when conducting classes.
Furthermore, in addition to improving the knowledge and ability of individual students, universities are also expected to develop and cultivate ability working in groups (team play). Accordingly, we must focus on providing opportunities for group work both in class and outside of class. The fifty minutes before class are the perfect opportunity to give students shared experiences including group discussions. There is a group of proactive students who are in their seats at 8:30 a.m. and ask various questions. By making good use of this fifty-minute period, these students are able to produce great academic results. I rationalize this fifty-minute period by giving the following explanations. “It is normally unthinkable for a professional baseball player or orchestra player to arrive at the stadium or concert hall immediately before a game or concert. In order to give an outstanding performance worthy of the price paid by the audience, an appropriate amount of preparation is required.” When considering life after graduation, success will not be obtainable for someone content at being at work during regular hours, whether it be a private corporation or government agency. In order to have a fulfilling career after graduation, students must learn at university the behavioral patterns for actual society. Only by showing the initiative to constantly function independently (pursuing work instead of simply “having a job”) will help students adapt smoothly to their workplace.

In addition to utilization of the 50-minute period before class, I also provide other educational aids based on my own unique ideas. This includes free distribution of “Fundamental Learning Methods,” a thick manual which lists information of 60 items, as well as constant individual grading of reports for all seminar students. These aids contain many features which are not available anywhere else. When selecting courses in which to enroll, students are forced to prioritize one course over another. This is especially true for specialized seminars which impact that student’s career path. Another harsh reality regarding the courses which I teach is that they only attract attention from unusually motivated and obsessive students. However, I have no interest in such things. Furthermore, it is trivial to consider whether these types of unexpected and free educational activities will be viewed as business model or as part of omotenashi from the perspective of normal students. The important thing is that the many instructors supporting education at our university continue to take bold measures from their own perspective in order to further heighten the quality of education at Chuo University and enhance organizational ability, thereby increasing the degree of satisfaction among students. I wrote this short essay in response to a request from the editorial department for an article on omotenashi. I hope that my submission will become a practical opportunity for the invigoration of FD activities at Chuo University.

Koresuke Yamauchi
Professor and Doctor of Law, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
In January 2007, Koresuke Yamauchi became the eight Japanese person to win Humboldt Prize of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (the first person at Chuo University). In November 2012, he became the first Japanese person to receive an Honorary Law Degree from the University of Muenster.
From the editorial department

Dr. Ehlers is flanked on the left by Professor Tadaki (Director of the Institute of Comparative Law in Japan) and on the right by Professor Yamauchi.

Professor Yamauchi is widely known as a leading figure in private international law, international business law, comparative law and international law. In addition, he is famous as a professor with the spirit of omotenashi (hospitality).

Professor Yamauchi’s omotenashi became a topic of conversation at an event held in May on Tama Campus in order to celebrate the conferral of Chuo University honorary doctorate degree to Dr. D. Ehlers, Professor of Law at the University of Munster.

To welcome professors invited from Germany by the Institute of Comparative Law in Japan, Professor Yamauchi and his wife always prepared vases of flowers as well as drinking water and snacks such as bread, butter, cheese, ham and fruits, all at their own expense. This left a favorable impression on visitors from Germany. The next time, Professors from Germany welcomed professors from Chuo University as the same.

In addition to academic interaction, this omotenashi helped to deepen interaction with visitors. Professor Yamauchi was the leader in offering such outstanding hospitality.