A new volunteer network has been set up to provide a friendly welcome to Hiroshima for its visitors from overseas. The group’s name, “Hiroshima Omotenashi Tai” [ひろしまおもてなし隊], literally means Hiroshima Hospitality Brigade, though its official English title is the rather less militaristic “Hiroshima Big-Heart Omotenashi Volunteers”. The group has begun by assigning volunteers to take some pressure off and supplement the work of the small tourist information booth at Hiroshima’s shinkansen ticket gates.
The term omotenashi became a buzzword after Christel Takigawa used the term last autumn in a speech to the IOC on behalf of Tokyo’s bid for the 2020 Olympic Games. Generally translated into English as “hospitality” though often appended with something like the “Japanese spirit of…” to distinguish from how other cultures receive guests, the essence of omotenashi is difficult to capture in words, and definitions of the concept are usually vague; The Japanese tea ceremony is usually referenced, as well as phrases like reaching into customers’ hearts by reaching into one’s own. Despite the difficulty in pinning down its meaning the word is being attached to anything and everything tourism related in Japan, and it is hoped that through strenuous PR efforts omotenashi will become as well (un)known around the world as the term yokoso (Japanese for welcome) which was used in the 2010 Visit Japan Campaign.
Hiroshima Big-Heart Omotenashi Volunteers aim to provide a friendly face at the gateway to Hiroshima and create a memorable first impression. More practically, they will be available to guide visitors to difficult to find luggage lockers, bus and streetcar stops and get them on their way to the hotels. Most importantly perhaps, they should be able to tell visitors which side of the station it is best to exit to reach their desired destination.
At the moment the group is covering days and times when most overseas visitors are expected arrive at Hiroshima Station, but we believe that Hiroshima city government hope that the volunteer group will grow to become a permanent service at the station and eventually extend its activities to more locations around the city.