A devotion to omotenashi, or bespoke hospitality, is at the heart of the ryokan experience.
But omotenashi is more than just providing a welcoming environment.
Omote means “public face,” an image you wish to present to outsiders.
Nashi means “nothing.” Together it means a selfless service that is pure, with an open heart.
It’s anticipating guests’ needs without any expectation of reward. To what extreme
can that be taken? In the days of the samurai, it meant designing the ryokan itself
with the specific needs of the guest in mind. Ryokan were built with low doors,
narrow stairwells, and small entrances to protect the guests from their sword-wielding enemies.
The tradition is said to come from a more peaceful place: the Japanese tea ceremony.
This can be traced back to Sen no Rikyu, the grandfather of the Japanese tea ceremony.
His artful way of entertaining included a multi-course meal and tea prepared right in
front of his guests. But the meal went beyond accommodating his guests’ physical hunger.
To satisfy aesthetic and intellectual needs, the mind as well as the body, the experience
included a thoughtfully curated poem, a seasonal flower arrangement, and always
engaging discussion. It was known as ichi-go ichi-e, “a once in a lifetime experience.”