Lonely Planet Writer

Japan uses new technology to teach oldest traditions

They are some of the oldest traditions of hospitality in Japan … but that does not mean they have remained untouched by technology.

Traditional Japanese Ryokan with Japanese garden.
Traditional Japanese ryokan with Japanese garden. Image by Moyan Brenn / CC BY 2.0

Staff at the country’s Hoshino Resorts are being given training in traditional omotenashi through tablet devices, getting lessons for example on precisely the right way to open sliding doors or preparing for a tea ceremony.

Traditional Japanese guesthouses or ryokan have found it difficult to compete against modern hotels, particularly when it comes to delivering the multitude of tiny personal touches expected.

Previously, intensive training had to be provided in person to all new staff on the standards of hospitality and cleanliness, which have been passed down over the generations.

However, using special courses delivered via tablet to new staff – the resorts are hoping that they can deliver those ancient traditions much more economically.

Sliding a door correctly, the appropriate way of bringing a meal to a table, even the way flowers are arranged in a room might not be the focus of much attention in a modern hotel. However, in old-fashioned inns in Japan, they are all considered essential.

Hoshino Resorts told Lonely Planet: “Traditional Japanese Inn, ryokan, have usually a small number of rooms and it is said to be difficult to produce an economy of scale [when] compared to western-style hotels.”

One of their key plans is the “precision instruction” that is being delivered electronically and dramatically reducing the amount of time needed for training.

They said: “Higher precision of manuals made it possible to reduce the total amount of time for training. The remaining time is allocated for employees’ discussion to further enhance the guests’ satisfaction.”

Where previously, a single tutor had been required for every two students, now the important lessons can be delivered via a touch screen.

Hoshino Resorts said they were modelling their hotel business – despite its centuries-old origins – on the car industry and aiming to be the “Toyota of Tourism”.