Having been two months now in Japan, there is one thing I’m sure I will miss more than anything else when I fly back to the United States, the excellence in customer service. Every morning as I walk to the train station, I stop at the convenience store (conbini) a block down from my apartment to buy my morning snack or breakfast. As I walk into the store I soon hear several employees yell out “Irassyamase” (Welcome!) simply to acknowledge my presence in the store, even if the employees are busy at the moment arranging products or moving something. They welcome me with happily and with enthusiasm, not lazily. Are they faking their happiness? I don’t know, but my moods are lifted immediately as I reply “Ohayou Gozaimasu” (Good morning!) to everyone and no one in particular.
I go to the stand and grab a rice ball (onigiri) and a bottle of cold tea and as I approach the registers I’m smiled at and welcomed again. If there’s someone paying at the moment and the other register machine was closed, an employee rushes his way to it and soon tells me to pay there. It doesn’t matter if the other person who is paying only has one item and will probably be done in 10 seconds, there is this employee rushing his way to allow me to save 10 seconds of my morning. He or she smiles and asks if it is okay to put both items in the same bag. If I happen to get something to eat that is supposed to be warmed up they offer to microwave it for me at the moment! They also include a pair of chopsticks and a toothpick in the bag so that I can eat my food without worrying about such details. I can walk out of the convenience store with my breakfast (or lunch) already warmed up and with everything I need to eat it comfortably, no need to worry about any small details. Furthermore, these convenience stores with such excellent service are open 24/7 in most instances, and are located all around Japan.
I could experience this great customer service on several occasions this past Saturday morning, when I went with Meru-San to get a haircut and then do some shopping. It was my first haircut in Japan, after I had been here for two months, so my hair was out and wild. I was a bit scared, I must admit, mostly because my hair has some curliness, and that is something most hairdressers in Japan don’t have to deal with, ever. Meru-San and I wend to Umeda, a nice area with two big shopping malls, and we just walked around the stores for a while. The feeling was great, everywhere things were so neatly arranged that you just felt happy and willing to buy.
After a while we finally went down to the street level and found a salon for my haircut. We saw there was a price list on front, so we went to look at it and a woman quickly came out to help us. There were several options, and I quickly chose the first ‘package’ which included everything, pretty much. The lady helping us told me that it would be another 40 minutes before my turn, and I told her it was fine and we just walked in to look at haircut catalogs. Meru-San and I looked at them, but only really looked at the “Very Short” section because anything longer than that would be considered long hair, and with my curly hair that wouldn’t work. We found three styles that looked pretty similar and that would work on me, so we picked one and then just looked around the salon at what was going on. Meru-San noticed the guy working in front of us and his “flaming hair” and told me, “I’m sure the guy with the flaming hair will be the one, you’ll see.”
Well, it so happens that the other person cutting hair next to him finished doing what he was doing, and instead of calling out my name he just went and started cleaning a few things, and hanging around. When the guy with the “flaming hair” finished his work with the other guy, he went to the register and I heard him ask the lady there “Oma? Omar?”, so Meru-San and I looked at each other and laughed. The guy with the flaming hair was definitely the awesome guy cutting my hair that morning.
He approached me with a smile and called out “Omar-san!” while pointing to the super nice and comfortable chair I was going to be sitting for the morning. He then proceeded to ask me a few questions, and try to explain in English what I didn’t understand, and then gave me a nice cold towel to clean my hands while he got ready for my haircut. Since Meru-San wanted to watch while I got my haircut, the lady that helped us initially brought a chair so she could sit and watch! Crazy.
The stylist shampooed my hair, and then proceeded to cut. Before he did this, however, he held a little box in front of me so I could place my glasses there during the haircut! I have never, ever, seen a hairstylist hold out a specific box for eyeglasses before. It is great what this Japanese pay attention to, I thought.
He cut, cut, cut hair. I had enough to make a carpet out of it, Meru-san pointed out. After he cut all that hair, he styled it a little bit so I could see it styled, and he looked at me a bit nervous while I put my glasses on so I could judge. It was great! I was so happy, I looked and it was great, and Meru-San nodded in approval. He looked very happy and relieved, and then proceeded to shampoo my hair well to remove the cut hair, and to allow me to look beautiful, of course.
He then proceeded to the shave, and that was fantastic, honestly. He placed some nice, warm towels on my face and allowed them to soothe my skin. He then put nice, warm shaving cream on my face, all over the place, and then proceeded to shape my eyebrows, shave, and, to my big shock and surprise, trim the hair in my nostrils! I almost started laughing when I realized what he was doing and what Meru-San would be thinking while watching!
After he finished all this he put a hydrating mask on my face while he massaged my arms and shoulders. Then he told me to lean forward and he massaged my back too! Now this, my friends, is quality service. Once he was done I was feeling great, and I was so happy I couldn’t really stop smiling and being happy. This random guy approached Meru-san to tell her that he graduated from MIT in 2002, and to tell us to enjoy our time in Osaka! The world is a tiny, tiny place.
After my haircut, shampoo, shave, eyebrow and nostril trimming session, and my massage, I paid a grand total of less than $50. I was so happy paying that, I pay more for a haircut in Boston. When we were about to leave, the stylist that cut my hair gave us his business card, which indicated he was actually the “salon manager”. As we were walking out he told the lady in front that we were going shopping, and she actually walked us to the shopping mall next to the salon. Yet another way in which the Japanese show their attention to detail and customer service.
Meru-San and I then went and we both got an outfit. We were both going for nice looking Japanese outfits, so we walked around and bought and outfit each. A bit pricey, it was, but worth it, it also was. The service in those stores was also magnificent, but I’ll just summarize it by saying that they package things magnificently before they give them to you, and they don’t give them to you until they walk you to the exit of the store. Oh, and they put a plastic wrap over my bag because it was raining out. ❤
After this Meru-San and I went to my apartment and we changed into our newly purchased clothes before the afternoon…
Another entry about that coming soon, with stories including our experience at a maids café (you get served by cute little women), our random stop at a place full of yaoi (female oriented homo stories), chasing the hanabi around osaka, amazing dinner, and Meru-San’s cost in the Japanese market. 😀
I know you’re intrigued. ^^