• Tokyo


I don’t think I’m the only reader to notice the irony in Megumi Shimazoe’s Jan. 23 letter, “ Service with a smile sets us apart.” It is not exactly honesty and sincerity that overcome visitors when they get the fake “ordered” smiles from behind the counter.

On the whole, Japanese employees are diligent, accommodating and genuinely willing to help, and they take pride in their work, something Western service can learn from. Still, there is something discomforting about the forced smiles and token expressions of politeness that greet me from people, vending machines, trains, you name it.

And I notice that unusual but simple requests that service staff have not been ordered to make seem to bring on a mental block. Some of us want a real person — happy or grumpy — with feelings who we identify with to greet us behind the counter. So when it comes to service in Japan, I kind of like it and don’t like it at the same time.

Why does this so often describe my Japanese experiences?

darek gondor

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