If you’ve spent any amount of time in Japan, you’ve probably heard the word omotenashi quite a few times, as it describes an idea that lies at the heart of Japanese culture.
By Alec Jordan
One approach to thinking about the concept is as a kind of “selfless hospitality,” a way of anticipating what a guest might need and providing it in a way that is unobtrusive, tasteful, and refined. But it’s a trait that is most often used to describe what people do and how they behave. So what would it mean for a product to demonstrate omotenashi?
That is a question that the organizers of the OMOTENASHI Selection project had to ask themselves. Launched by the OMOTENASHI NIPPON organization, the project is a way to discover and draw attention to products and services that represent Japanese culture, but that would also appeal to a global audience. The selection process began last year, with 141 applicants coming in from around the country; the products were divided into three different categories: products related to eating, products related to dressing, and gadgets, tools, and web services—products related to “using.”
Because the products were being considered for their global as well as their domestic appeal, a panel of 11 international experts spent two days examining the products and rating them on a series of qualities—“emotional sensibility, a sense of story, and logical value.” At the same time, the panelists and organizers had to assess how much the products represented Japanese aesthetics, how modern they were, and how much global potential they had.
Last week, the first 47 OMOTENASHI Selection products—which ranged from high-tech speakers to traditional snack products—were displayed at a ceremony at the Okura Hotel in Tokyo. Among these, though, were chosen 13 Gold Award recipients, which were selected to best demonstrate the values of Japan to the wider world.
One thing that this assortment of products shows is that not only the traditions of Japan, but also its considerable R&D muscle, are being put to use in a wide range of merchandise that extends beyond what many people expect from the country. Have a look for yourself.
Main Image: Sugi Bag—made from two pieces of cypress, these leather-handled bags will definitely catch the eye.