Experiencing Everyday Life in Japan with Emeline 2: Shopping in Japan Part 2: Japanese “Omotenashi”

First part: ↓ ↓
Experiencing Everyday Life in Japan with Emeline 2: Shopping in Japan Part 1: France and Japan are Really That Different?!


Hello! It’s Emeline!

In the first part of this article, I explained what surprised me, as a French person, when I went shopping in Japan. No matter what country I go to, I think I can find similar surprising things. However, in this second part, I will talk about unsettling things that are probably inherent in Japan.

In Japan, there is a concept called “omotenashi” (おもてなし). Overseas, we do not have such a concept so I can imagine a lot of people are wondering what is omotenashi. This is often translated as “Japanese hospitality” and refers to putting all your heart into offering your customers the best service you can.  

This is an important part of Japanese culture and I think that if you come to Japan, you can experience it everywhere. However, it can be a little bit unsettling for people who are not used to it. That was my case, and I would like to talk about it in this article.

Trying on clothes or shoes

One thing that confuses me is trying on clothes or shoes in a store.

The first time I went to buy shoes, I went with a Japanese friend. I found a pair of shoes I liked but there was only one pair on display and no shoe boxes. I thought they were out of stock and was going to look for other ones when my friend asked me what my size was and that she was going to call the employee.

When I told her that I was size 37, she started to laugh and explained me that sizes in Japan and in France were different. I was not aware of that so, obviously I had no idea what my Japanese size was. I could find it on the internet, so my friend called an employee.

There were no shoes boxes left, so for me, there was no point in calling and bothering an employee with that, but when my friends asked them for “this pair, size 23.5”, the employee immediately went to search for one in the storehouse. In shoes stores in France, there are always a few boxes under the display shoes but if you cannot find the size or the color you want there, chances are they are out of stock. However, if you find the ones you want, you can take them and try them on freely.

The employee came back with my shoes and I could try them on, but I started feeling uncomfortable. The employee was standing next to me, staring at me trying the shoes on, and stayed there until I was done. I understand that they were doing that so they could help me right away if I needed another size or anything, but for me, it felt very weird.

In France, employees usually do not do that (except maybe in luxurious stores, which I have never been to). Even if you call an employee and ask them to get something for you, after they came back, they will say something like “if you need anything else, do not hesitate to call me again” and go to another aisle. Thanks to that system, you do not have to be embarrassed if you do not like the shoes and you can just put them back with the other boxes. In Japan, I thought it was more difficult to do so as the employee stands right next to you. I always feel very sorry if I call an employee, have them help me, and then buy nothing. I feel like I just bothered them for no reason and that is why I felt uncomfortable.

The situation is similar when you go buy clothes. Sometimes an employee waits for you outside the fitting room, but I really cannot get used to that. It just makes me want to run away… I thought it was just because of my shy personality, but when I talked about it with another foreign friend, I understood that it was not just me.

Japanese omotenashi

The Japanese saying for “the customer is always right” literally translates to “the customer is God” (okyakusama wa kamisama お客様は神様). Because of omotenashi culture, it is normal for Japanese people to have great and respectful service. In France, we also have a similar saying. It is “le client est roi”, which means “the customer is king”. However, do not forget that French people did a revolution when they did not agree with their kings… The customer is king, sure, but within reason. It is normal to expect an employee to treat a customer politely and do their job, but you should not expect a lot more than that. Any special treatment would make the customer feel quite uncomfortable.  

What would appear as a special treatment for a French person? Let me give you an example. When I started looking for a job, I wanted to buy a bag that would look professional and go well with my suit. I found one, went to the register, and paid but then, the employee insisted on holding my bag while escorting me to the exit. The bag I bought was not heavy and it was not even that expensive, so it felt a little bit excessive. I knew it was a common thing in Japan so I said nothing and let them do it, but I did not feel good about it.

While we were walking together towards the exit, they started doing small talk with me, commenting on the weather. I do not really like small talk and never really know what I should say back, so it became even more uncomfortable and the short distance between the register and the exit felt so much larger.

I am not saying that Japanese omotenashi is a bad thing, quite the opposite! Of all the countries I visited, Japan’s customer service is among the best. However, as a foreigner, I still cannot get used to some things.

Going to the Register

Another place I experience Japanese omotenashi is at the register in supermarkets. In Japan, the employee puts your items in another basket after scanning them, so, once they are done, you can just take the basket and put your purchase in your bags in the dedicated area. In France, it is different.

Registers in French supermarkets have two conveyor belts. One where you put your items before the employee scans them, and another one where the employee put them back after they scanned them. However, I advise you to take back your items and put them in your eco bag as soon as the employee puts them on the second conveyor belt because once they are done with the scanning, you need to pay immediately since it is the next customer’s turn. They do not give you time to collect everything. Time is money. In some supermarkets, the employees are particularly fast, and it can be quite difficult to get everything in your bags in time. Grocery shopping in France can be stressful sometimes, so you need to come prepared.

In comparison, grocery shopping in Japan is stress-free!!

In this article, I talked about the things that surprised me upon going shopping when I first came to Japan. When you go abroad, everything is so different from what you are used to that you cannot help but compare it to your home country. However, it is important not to think that your culture and habits are the ones that are right. You must try to understand the other culture without judging it.

At first, when I came to Japan, a lot of things were unsettling but because of that, I tried to learn about it to understand why things were like this. Thanks to that, I got a better understanding of Japan and Japanese culture. There are still a lot of things I have trouble getting used to but instead of hating them, I see them as opportunities to discover a new world and experience new things.

Shopping in Japan is overall stress-free, and there are a lot of stores that sell interesting, fun, and cute items. There are a lot of stores like that in Kashiwa, so why not come and enjoy shopping here? If you are not sure where to go, we can guide you at kamon Kashiwa Information Center. Feel free to come and ask any questions you might have. We’re waiting for you!

This article is written by:



Hey! I’m Emeline, from France. I’m often told that my name is hard to remember so feel free to call me Em!

I came to Japan in September 2019 as an exchange student to finish my research for my master thesis. I was studying at Keio University in Tokyo but I lived in Kashiwa since the first day I came to Japan!
I come from a small city in the South of France so Kashiwa seemed more comfortable for me than the capital. I still don’t know a lot about Kashiwa, but since I started working at kamon, I’m learning new things every day and enjoying the city more and more!!