Like “gemutlich” (a German adjective describing fireside coziness), the Japanese word “omotenashi” is hard to define but easy to picture. It’s a cashier greeting you nicely rather than chatting with colleagues and tossing your purchase across the counter — an all-encompassing focus on service and caring professionalism.

Long hailed as the epitome of Japanese quality, the concept is for the first time coming in for a beating. More and more Japanese are wondering whether human-scale omotenashi makes sense in an age when Alexa, Siri and Japan’s own robotics are seeking to provide a frictionless experience through technology. I’d argue that the term belongs in our vocabulary and, in fact, offers a key to growth and prosperity.

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