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 arranging products or hauling boxes, they won’t fail to welcome you into the store.
They welcome me 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. As I approach the registers I’m smiled at and welcomed again. If the open register is busy with another customer an employee rushes to an available register and greets me to pay there. It doesn’t matter if the other register will free up in 10 seconds, they don’t want to inconvenience me.
The employee always smiles to me and asks me if it is okay to put both items in the same bag. They also offer to warm up any microwaveable item for me at the moment! They pack a pair of chopsticks and a toothpick in the bag so that I can eat my food without worrying about such details. I walk out of the convenience store with my breakfast already warmed up, my chopsticks and a toothpick to spare in less than 5 minutes.
Such convenience stores are open 24/7 in most instances and located all around Japan. In fact, there are 3 within a 5 minutes walk from my apartment.
I experienced this great Japanese customer service on several occasions this past Saturday morning, when I went with Meru-San to get a haircut and 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 hesitant to get a haircut in Japan due to the curliness in my hair, which is not typical in Japan. 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 of walking around the shops in Japan was great, things were so neatly arranged that you just felt happy and comfortable walking around.
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. A woman quickly came out of the store to help us.
There were several options. 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. That is fine, we replied, as we walked in to look at haircut catalogs. Meru-San and I looked at the “Very Short” cuts section because anything longer than that would be considered long hair in the US. It also wouldn’t work well with my curly hair.
As we waited, Meru-San noticed the guy working in front of us. She said “I’m sure the guy with the flaming hair will be the one to cut your hair, you’ll see.” Flaming hair alluded to the guy’s hairstyle. If you saw it, you’d agree that flaming was the right term.
Sure enough, after a while the guy with the flaming hair finished his work with the other guest and called out “Oma? Omar?”. I looked at Meru-San and laughed in amusement at her predictive abilities.
Flaming hair guy approached me with a smile and called out “Omar-san!” while pointing to a super nice and comfortable chair where I was going to be sitting for the haircut. He asked a few questions, tried 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, they hauled a chair over to be next to me so that 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 and styled it he looked at me a bit nervous while I put my glasses on so I could judge. It was great! Meru-San nodded in approval. He looked very happy and relieved, and then proceeded to shampoo my hair thoroughly to remove the loose, cut hair.
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 that he was trimming my nostrils hair. Meru-San was amused.
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.
While we were there, a 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 paid more than that just 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”.
Before walking out of the store, we asked the lady in front for directions to the shopping area. To our continued surprise, she walked us to the shopping mall next to the salon. This was at least a 5 minutes walk each way. Yet another way in which the Japanese show their attention to detail and customer service.
Meru-San and I then went shopping. We were both going for nice looking Japanese outfits, so we walked around and bought an outfit each. It was a bit pricey for my standards, but definitely worth it. The service in those stores was magnificent, but I’ll just summarize it by saying that they package things magnificently before they give them to you. They carry your bags until the store’s exit/edge at which time they bowed as they gave us our bags and said goodbye. Oh, and they put a plastic wrap over my bag because it was raining out. <3
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 that you’re intrigued.