Japan 4: It has been an honour writing this for you.

Written by

Andrew Millar


January 3, 2008

I got into a bowing match the other night with Housekeeping.

I rang and asked for two extra pillows and a very polite man in an extremely well presented uniform proudly presented me with two additional white pillows. He genuinely seemed honoured to be of assistance. He counted them carefully into my hands and proudly smiled. Mission completed, he bowed.

And I bowed back. So he bowed even lower.

So I bowed back and so a bobbing fight erupted in the doorway of room 1139, Sapporo Washington Hotel.

And he won. Partly because I was trying to hold the heavily sprung door open at the same time, but mostly because he’d had far more practice than I had.

In short, he’s used to it.

And I love that about the Japanese. They are so refreshingly polite. Everyone is so polite. We were coming up from breakfast and the family was spread out down the corridor. As we encountered the housekeeping staff each one greeted us personally. ‘Ohayo gozaimass.’ They were simply honouring us by acknowledging our existence.

It is the same in shops. Every business you walk into, or at least walk past, you are greeted with ‘Shinmasi’. And we are here at sale time so it’s a complete frenzy of ‘Shinmasi… Shinmasi… Shinmasi…’ Sometimes delivered by a small plastic speaking trumpet, but always with a voice that sounds like they have just sucked a lung full of Helium.

But more than this, every job that sees someone at the service of others is treated with a dedicated professional attitude that is to be applauded. The girl who directed us onto the transfer bus from Narita to Hakido airport stepped on board before the bus left and said something to the effect that it was an honour to help us. She said it to the busload of passengers, not just us.

And the security police who checked the bus as we entered the airport did the same before leaving the coach.

And even when we bought something for $15 in a department store, the assistant realised that it was a gift and very carefully and skilfully wrapped it and presented it with appreciation. What is more they honour you by wrapping the purchase before accepting the money for it.

Neither have we seen shop assistants talking amongst themselves about what they did on the weekend. They know they are there to provide assistance.

The point is that they see the difference between service and subservience.

We are losing this in Australia. We are beginning to see our jobs as just a job – something to do 9 to 5. We’re beginning to not care.

It has almost completely disappeared in America. Where, they quite commonly don’t give a damn whether you simply go away and die.

And sometimes the world wishes that attitude would.