Service Standards in Japan

Since arriving in Tokyo a few days ago, it is obvious to us that the level of service in this country is quite striking.  Sometimes for good; and others not quite so.

When we left the airport on the airport limousine bus to our hotel, we were very formally positioned into a line exactly where the bus door would open. Our bags had been taken from us and placed by the kerb for off loading at our hotel.This wasn’t done because tourists are stupid – more so, because it would be inappropriate not to provide as much service as possible. Before departing, the man from the bus company stood at the front of the bus, wished us farewell in polite Japanese (we assume), bowed deeply and- then left so that the bus could depart exactly on time. At our hotel, we were unable to take our bags until the two of us could produce the baggage check stub for the obvious two bags that were unloaded-such is the requirement for- formality here.

On the trains, there is a constant babble of messages. Most were from the automated voice across the PA system, but occasionally, some were spoken live by the guard. These turned out to be series of warnings – don’t fall over, mind- the step, give your seats up for the elderly, turn your mobile phone to silent and so on. No one listens to them, but it is clearly the train company’s role to keep people safe from- harm and to encourage them to follow the rules.

When we checked into our hotel, we asked for a non-smoking room. Accordingly, we found a non-smoking sign positioned above the door handle. This morning, a number of other nearby rooms had similar signs, even though they weren’t there the day before. To please a customer request, it appears that any room can instantly become- a non smoking one by formally adding a sign. They can just as formally revert to smoking rooms again. It used to be the same in restaurants; a table would- be designated as non-smoking although people would be smoking continuously at most adjoining tables. None of this is related in any way to public health – it is all done to meet the customer’s  requirements.

On the other hand, service excellence can be very frustrating. For example, ATMs are open during bani8ng hours. It wouldn’t be good service if they failed- overnight and the problem couldn’t be rectified. It would also be poor form not to have a security guard  present when ever  someone wanted to use them, and who wants to employ a security guard after hours? We notice- that the revolving doors at our hotel only operate when the doorman is working. Without her / him, it wouldn’t be possible to ensure that people follow the notice to only have three people in the door way at any one time. At night, we need to use the sliding door to the side.

We have had a couple of times when it would have been easy to have just crossed the road, but it is much more appropriate to walk for some distance to where a uniformed crossing attendant can stop the traffic and shepherd us across the road in a safe and proper manner.

I didn’t get- any service from David yesterday when, whilst going to the loo, I pressed the alarm button rather than the toilet flush button. There was an- immediate reaction with flashing lights and an automated voice repeating “Come to the toilet” over and over again. I enacted my own service levels by cancelling it very quickly so that the building caretaker, police, or whoever else was responsible for attending didn’t have to disrupt themselves from their daily routine. David provided no service at all, but just `abused me incredulously for not knowing the the difference between the Japanese characters for “Hel Me” as compared to  Flush Me”. I guess that I will have to study harder before leaving home next time!

Not withstanding these service issues, we have had a good few days here. On Friday, Jill & I spent some time wandering around the very cultural area of Ueno Park. We visited a couple of shrines that were first built in 428 AD, and wandered through the parkland area which also contains a  zoo,museums, art galleries and- the national- ballet auditorium.

On Saturday, we visited David in his apartment and had`lunch together.

Today (Sunday) we caught a train to Kamakura, about 60 kms southwest of Tokyo to visit more shrines and temples. Some of these were on the island of Enoshima which was buzzing with a festival to celebrate the arrival of Spring. (We haven’t seen any cherry blossoms yet, but expect to somewhere along the way). We were reminded again today  of just how effectively the trains can run here. From Tokyo to Kamakura, a 15 carriage train runs every ten minutes and all of them are busy. We pay by buying a rechargeable Suica Card which not only pays for the train, but also for all local buses and even vending machines. LIz Kosky, pay attention! (People aren’t even required to eat  breakfast here before getting on a train either so as to prevent delays by fainting!)

Tomorrow, we are- off to Matsumoto for a short stay in an Onsen Inn with a thermal spa) for another new –cultural experience.


Bruce is a keen traveller and photographer. This web site describes his travel and family interests

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