It was touted as a “Japanese virtue” during the final speeches for Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Games bid and has become a ubiquitous buzzword ever since, but it seems that reality has some way to go before omotenashi (hospitality) can truly be called a success story.

An Osaka sushi chain has found itself in hot water after serving sushi to non-Japanese customers with excessive amounts of wasabi.

Notwithstanding the clamour of some netizens, this does not seem to have been a case of outright discrimination, but rather a naivety based on a misconception of omotenashi. The sushi chain did what it believed was right for “foreign tastes” without actually understanding them, or being aware that preferences vary per individual.

osaka sushi restaurant Ichibazushi wasabi terrorism discrimination serving excess foreigners koreans

Osaka-based Ichibazushi, which is operated by Fujii Shokuhin Co., has issued an apology on its website after photos of the wasabi overdose went viral on social media, leading to dozens of telephone complaints to its Nanba restaurant and international press coverage.

The restaurant chain has claimed that its serving of wasabi inside the sushi was based on past non-Japanese customers who ordered extra servings of the condiment.

Ichibazushi responded with a policy of serving foreign diners with copious amounts of wasabi already included in the sushi. This “washi terrorism”, as some commentators online memorably called it, comprised sometimes twice the usual volume of wasabi.

The company denied intentional discrimination against foreigners and apologized for “causing distress among customers who do not like wasabi”.

Japan’s supposed culture of hospitality has long been a matter of dispute, as foreigners trying to rent apartments or people with tattoos have discovered.

Lesson of the day: True omotenashi means adapting how you welcome guests depending on their needs. If they have a tattoo, of course they can still use the pool. If they are a vegan, of course we will change the meal for you. If they like wasabi, of course they can have extra. But don’t assume anything just because they are not Japanese. Otherwise, things are going to get very interesting in 2020.

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2 Comments

  • happydays October 4, 2016

    just shame on you osaka じじぃばばぁ. you smear japan food craftsmanship´s image reputation with infamy.

  • Mark October 22, 2016

    The Japanese local autoreotied does not behave like a typical democracy but like a dark regime where the police not only enforce the law but also create it and judge it.

    Seems like the local municipaliies, local police, bldg managements and conservative neighbors all working hand in hand with the hotel industry and making sure to prevent this beautiful country from any possible progress or success. The government -in particular Abe san- and the federal do understand the need for progress and adjustments even at the expense of “unfamiliar life style” but unfortunately they do not have enough power over local municipaliies.

    And the public? They don’t even understand what’s in their own best interest!
    Go and try to explain to the average neighbor that the tourism industry is one of the only successful sectors in this country right now. Go and try to explain them that there are hundreds of billions of dollars coming from the tourism industry and everyone including themselves are enjoying this income even if indirectly.
    Go and try to explain that big part of the growth in tourism in japan is due Airbnb and similar networks. Go try to explain them that not everyone think the same and many people prefer private apartment rather than small room in expensive commercial hotel. Go and explain that travelers want to stay in the center and not to be sent to Ota ku because this is the only municipally that approved the new regulations. All this doesn’t matter to them, they don’t want tourist in their bldg! And so what if the economy may collapse? As long as I will get my rubbish always 100% separated to 5 different categories. Because this is the most important thing in the world!

    By the way, if instead of fighting Airbnb operator the bldg managements will try to work together with them so the rubbish will it be an issue, it is easily solvable. Everything is solvable really but when people are narrow minded they are not looking for solutions, they are looking to enforce their opinion on others.

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