Saturday, October 25, 2014

Omotenashi extended

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Japanese

Rich people always need to make more and more bundles of cash  -- which they can pile up in the basements with old newspapers -- even as Japan cuts social services and pensions, and the economy gets flushed.   

When the national toilet backs up, the rich can just move to some other country.   Who cares if Fukushima glows in the dark?  Or Tokyo is underwater?  Or a few million children die?
One function of  branding trickery like "Omotenashi" is to distract.   Japanese national branding  provides cover --a fig leaf for all sorts of unpleasantness -- rather like "patriotism" itself.

 Japan, for example,  is among other things famously tourist-unfriendly – an insular, mono-lingual, conformist society that is not really comfortable with people who look different and act differently.     

The Tattoo thing is a problem for the zillions of foreigners who got a bluebird tattooed on their arm backwhen.

Then there are all the rules... and just generally crappy service. 

Check into a hotel, pay an exorbitant rate for a tiny room, a tiny, hard bed, and bad air-conditioning.  Then, sneak your girlfriend in to avoid paying the extra charge (up to double).  Drag yourself out of bed in the morning with a hangover because checkout is 10 AM.  Whoops your bill is about 30% more than you thought -- due to charges added for non-existent service, consumption tax, and stuff you don't understand at all.   

Basic Rule in Japan.  Service= you pay extra.

So, "omotenashi" and the "kawaii" culture cover all this up nicely -- more pixelations.

You will notice that definitions of "omotenashi" vary.

JAL, or example,  likes to talk about "pure hearts" -- referring to the Omotenashi Bra, I guess. And "intimate" stuff, the "soul of Japan" -- tying this back a few hundred years to the Tea Master Sen no Rikyu.

Renowned for his influence on chanoyu, the ‘way of tea’, Sen no Rikyū ... espoused that only through dedication with a pure heart can you share a special moment with your guest. With this, Sen no Rikyū established ... omotenashi ...  a completely selfless approach to receiving guests... to create an intimate environment ....

  Sen no Rikyu  was forced to commit seppuku in 1591.  In  one of those "selfless"  moments the Japanese are famous for --showing the “dedication of a pure heart” -- or at least a pure bowel -- he first cut out a chunk of his intestine and wrapped carefully it  -- to "share the special moment" with his patron, that particularly nasty piece of work, the Shogun Hideyoshi, who was at the time unavoidably occupied elsewhere screwing Sen no Rikyu's daughter.  

"Omotenashi" is alway about fucking somebody.

 Just try complaining about something to a Japanese service person.   He or she will apologize abjectly -- but tell you "there are rules".  No compromises.   Sorry -- fuck you very much. And if you fly JAL and want a little leeway on your carry-on luggage -- forget it. Sorry -- fuck you very much

There are other problems with this concept as we will see in my next blog post. 

Is Omotenashi Really Japanese?

Now, your average modern Japanese has as little understanding of the Tea Ceremony in Hideyoshi’s time in the context of the culture – as Americans do of the causes of the Revolutionary War.     Japan's writing system  -- and tea itself -- and much of its tradition of manners -- were imported  from Korea and China, along with the Imperial family.
The Japanese of course --famously-- do not dwell on history..... Or facts either.Which is why vaginas should be not quite seen.

Add to this the fact that -- if the ancient version of omotenashi is as much Korea and Chinese and Japanese --  the modern version owes something to the good old US of A --as we will see  in a moment. 

Suffice to say, that no culture is pure:  all cultures evolving through adaptation to the challenge of other cultures and the import of new technologies and memes, benefiting immensely from cross-fertilization. 

Kanebo-ishly Omotenashi

You will find that there as many interpretations of "omotenashi"as there are companies. Which was not the case in  Sen no Rikyu's day--in that  rigidly hierarchical society where samurai could chop down common folk for spilling tea (a big incentive in getting the tea ceremony right!). Things then were very black and white and bloody red.  

Translated simply, Omotenashi means the Japanese way of treating a guest. It blends a welcoming spirit with warmth, understanding, and above all respect. The concept is all encompassing.

Etymologically, Omotenashi is a hybrid of “omote” (surface) and “nashi” (less), concepts that translate together into “single-hearted.” From the perspective of a host, this is the rendering of service without expectation of favor or reward.
Kanebo's interpretation ties in with the "Omotenashi" bra.  The kanji on the bra' say "magokoro":  "true" or "single"  heart -- which is hidden since you can only see the girl's nipples   if you remove the surface covering -- the "omote". 

No "omote" (omote-nashi) = nipples = "single-hearted".  Got that?  (There will be a test next week). 

Interestingly, the Japanese language makes no distinction between ‘guest’ and ‘customer.’ In English, the concept of ‘service’ suggests a hierarchy between the ‘server’ and the ‘customer.’ The Japanese Omotenashi, however, is based on a non-dominant relationship between equals – between the person offering the service (the host) and the person receiving it (the guest or customer).

Wow! Equality.... How democratic.

Also: every customer is a guest? And every guest is a customer? this an "I-Thou" relationship? 

Hipsterism on a cultural level?

The Powerless Guest

Of course, the server and the servee are not equals-- the consumer  has no power here -- they always have to toe the line --getting the worst of all possible worlds.  They are 'customers'-- but as 'guests' they must always remember they are in someone else's home.    

Be nice!  Follow the rules.  Put the toilet seat down. Use a coaster. Most of all -- don't overstay your welcome.

If you are so rude as to complain about something -- don't expect any satisfaction. 
To practice Omotenashi, the host pays close attention to detail and is committed to anticipating the needs of the guest, smiling sincerely and setting a happy, relaxed mood. When authentic, Japanese hospitality and service exceed the expectations of the guests. At its most exquisite, Omotenashi offers a guest a once-in-a-life-time experience. The idea resonates with Ichigo-ichie, the tea master’s belief that every encounter is single and unique.
It is the "host"  who decides what you need -- not necessarily what you ask for or want.

Kanebo's explanation is basic propaganda -- "spinning" the facts of Japanese consumer service attitudes in a form they think is palatable to foreigners -- equality, transparency, selflessness, ya-de, ya-de, ya-de.

Once upon a time, starting with Jimmy Carter, American presidents started holding meetings with national leaders in informal attire.  No neckties.  Nowadays, Japanese PMs imitate. See: we're sociable and open.  What you see is what you get.

Ura nashi?  We're up front.   Not exactly.  Remove the outer covering of an onion. And you get layers and layers inside.

"Omotenashi" as Kanebo characterizes it -- doesn't really exist -- it is misdirection -- classic propaganda.   

Ditto: "ichigo ichie", to which we turn next.

Tea Ceremony and Ichigo Ichie

Sen no Rikyu would not have understood the present day buzzword Ichigo-ichie at all -- since it  was coined 300 years after he died.

The old man instead spoke of  "ichigo ni ichido" --  a one time experience-- subtly different from Kanebo's "once in a lifetime" experience, which somehow suggests a "peak", spiritual experience, yielding some form of enlightenment.  

The Shogun of Sen no Rikyu's time liked to use the Tea Ceremony  to bring together violent men who would normally kill each other -- but had been ordered to negotiate.    They left their swords -- and their needs and wants, resentments and anger outside the tea room -- and allowed the Tea Ceremony master to lead them through an austere  ritual whose point was its emptiness -- sitting side by side, uncomfortably on their knees, in a bare room, drinking tasteless tea.   

Once that was over, it was time for real food, lots of booze and hot sex. 

After tea -- sex!

Then, finally, came negotiation.

Dudes -- here's the Deal...

Equality?  That was counter-intuitive in the Tokugawa Period, when somebody always had to be in control.  Anyway, the tea ceremony was definitely not for the Great Unwashed.

In the Tea Ceremony room ,the Tea Master ran the show  But, in reality, he was a puppet of the Shogan --as was clear when Hideyoshi ordered Sen No Rikyu to disembowel himself, some say because Old Sen demurred at letting his Boss schtup is daughter. 

Tea Ceremony = control.  

Call it what you will - this was the beginning of what we now know as subtle authoritarianism or inverted totalitarianism, the Japanese one-party state.

In Tokugawan times, Tea Ceremony was a one-time experience - butrepeated-- again and again and again.   

Most big companies'  "explanations" of "omotenashi" are  bunk,  twisting of history and tradition.

The Un-Historical Japanese: Ichigo Ichie

What is ichigo ichie really?

It is a Meiji Period zen thing --a  unique moment – a bubble outside of time -- a break with established pattern. No Tick-tock -- it is the space between tick and tock, an emptiness in which everything is possible and nothing.

It is also a  great pickup line in coffee shops – and a favorite concept in hentai comics where some drooling middle-aged man abducts a 13 year old girl, and rapes her repeatedly.  

Once again, we enter the realm of the adolescent imagination, and the conflicts between dependency and freedom, control and surrender. Such conflicts are among the reasons that teenagers -- from 14 to 60 -- want to "live in the moment".

Um...ichigo ichie!   And then 40 years of crushing student debt.

In hentai--arguably the coolest product of "Cool Japan"--ichigo ichie is timeout for those chubby little salarymen with their balding pates and greasy glasses.

It is  timeout from bullying at the office, boredom, and a wife and kids the salaryman rarely sees or wants to see.  Timeout for the sex he actually isn’t capable of -- for sexual domination of young girls  who surrender to hm completely.   


Remember: the  Japanese don’t really have any idea of who Sen no Rikyū was or his history – and what the various zen terms and concepts like ichigo-ichie mean  -- or their own history and tradition.   

Remember: they don't really care.  

Visit Tokyo. Unlike other cities in the world, there are almost no buildings over 50 years old.  New is good. Old is just old, like your parents who you can't wait to move into an Institution.

Tradition? --that's just what everybody else is doing.  

And, "ichigoe ichie' just means getting completely wasted every now and again.


Sorry -- the Real Japan is different from advertising.


Omotenashi As Predatory Hospitality

Hospitality usually implies substantive generosity or charity or heartfelt warmth.  There is really not much of that in "omotenashi" as practiced by corporate Japan.

Warmth” is not part of it.  Nor is “open-heartedness” or “communication”, or “relaxation”.     

Sincere smiles?  The “sincerity” is an affectation –manners -- not emotion. 

In Zen there is neither warmth nor cold.  It is about surrender -- acceptance that you are nothing in the vastness of the cosmos.

16th Century Party Gear (See: Cosplay)
Surrender or die.  What you are is just a mask.


Nothing Personal

Remember: in the tea ceremony room – nothing is “personal”.  

If Omotenashi is about “selflessness” – it is the kind that erases personal identity or self – especially yours – reducing you to a role.  

As we said,  kneeling painfully and drinking crappy tea, for a couple of hours, was a form of social torture designed to enforce compliance.    

 Here is the ultimate achievement of social indoctrination – to make the meaningless meaningful. 

Sen no Rikyu:  Colon Sashimi
This is the function of social ritual.

Everything-- form – everything prepared – every movement, deliberate.  And no talking!

As have seen, Omotenashi  nothing to do with  omote or ura  but if it did, it would mean the normal public self -- one's normal  "omote" would be  absent, replaced by a role dictated by convention   -- with the "ura" also -- the private self -- rage, anger, hatred, love, generosity, charity, passion, intention  also erased.

This is not the case -- the public self is dominant in Japan-- controlled by convention.  As I have also just said -- you are your mask.

If You Have A Hammer, Everyone Is A Nail

What omotenashi therefore expresses is the regimentation of Japanese society.

To achieve the kind of social harmony that Japan aims at  everything has to be predictable. Every thing completely prepared so there are no surprises.  Every movement preordained, expected, empty or purpose beyond itself.  

Do not question.  If a mistake has been made: do not point it out -- repeat it.

We see this in all areas of society. In business, especially.

The modern businessman in Japan must endure, as a passive participants, hoping to get really drunk at the dinner.  Mixing sake, wine, beer, whiskey. 

WTF!  Ichigo ichie.   You won't remember anything -- just the hangover.

Want to Know About Japan?   Ask a Gaijin

Yes, a brand in search of a nation.

The Japanese don't really know who they are or what they are.  That view, unfortunately, can only come from outside.  And the Japanese are loath to let you in. 

But if you want to learn about Japan -- don't ask a Japanese -- ask a foreigner. 

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