Introduction of the term

おもてなし (omotenashi), the Japanese signifier to indicate ‘Japanese hospitality’, is strictly speaking untranslatable. Every word that tries to convey the signified, the meaning, of Omotenashi in another language, fails in conveying the Japanese specificity of that signifier. If a signifier only takes up meaning in relation to other signifiers, then, it’s obvious that the signifier “omotenashi” only takes up it’s specific meaning in the Japanese language context, while the translation, to convey the meaning of omotenashi, relies on the context of the used language. So even though, by way of a translation, we can get a sense of what omotenashi means in the Japanese context, it’s only by researching the Japanese language and context that a better understanding of the signifier may be realized.

So how is ‘omotenashi’ translated? In the fifth edition of Kenkyūsha’s New Japanese-English Dictionary, the Green Goddess, we find the following: 1) treatment, reception, service, and 2) welcome, entertainment, hospitality. In general we could say that the signifier omotenashi thus implies hospitality; a welcoming, entertaining interaction between two subjects in which one subject gets a treatment, reception, service. The fact that Omotenashi implies an interaction – like the signifier hospitality, is further underlined by the close related signifier Omotenasu, which is translated as “treat; receive”.

But even though we now know vaguely the context the signifier Omotenashi delineates – an interaction between two subjects, one as host and the other as guest, we’re still unable to grasp how omotenashi is in specific contexts (shop, restaurant, … etc ) takes concrete form. We hope to reveal more about Omotenashi in the future.


A response to Philip Brasor’s distorted commentary on ‘Omotenashi’