In view of the increasing number of foreign visitors to Japan, Fujita Kanko Inc., a Tokyo-based hotel chain, is stepping up efforts to train female staff in providing service in the style of okami at Japanese ryokan (inns).

The okami is the chief female manager at ryokan, inns that cater to travelers in a uniquely Japanese style. As many ryokan are family-run, the role of okami is typically taken by the wife of the owner or the most senior female family member.

In April, Fujita Kanko launched a two-year program to train its female personnel in the fine art of caring for travelers as it has evolved over centuries in ryokan, under the supervision of okami.

Participants gather once a month to learn traditional attending manners based on proper knowledge about washoku (Japanese-style food), culture, history and etiquette, as well as the most suitable way to treat guests in each season and month.

In addition to lectures by experts in those fields, they also engage in practical training in which participants take turns playing the role of either customer or staff.

“As a company operating hotels, we would like to nurture staff who can provide the high-quality care of an okami,” said Hiroyuki Sakurai, a Fujita Kanko official in charge of human resource development. “We expect that the program will help us improve the quality of our overall service and differentiate ourselves from industry rivals.”

The participants in the program are about 20 female staffers from Fujita Kanko’s hotels or inns, including the Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo, a five-star luxury hotel in Bunkyo Ward; Ito Kowaki-en in Ito, Shizuoka Prefecture; and Taikoen in Osaka.

They were either recommended by their bosses or chosen among applicants to take part in the program.

“Since the program brought together women of all ages from various facilities, it has been a valuable opportunity for me to listen to problems facing new employees and also to review my knowledge about Japanese food and manners,” said participant Hiromi Kaneko, 34, chief manager of a restaurant at the Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo.

Another participant said that she wanted to learn and practice the refined manners of an okami, while another explained she hoped to pass along what she learned through the program to others in the hotel she works.

Fujita Kanko said it plans to introduce a system to assess the knowledge and skills each participant acquired through the program.

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