True Hospitality: Not for Sale
Hospitality, the custom as well as the concept, has been around just about forever and is surely prized, if not always practiced, everywhere. It may be the original social grace. Here in Chicago it's snowing outside my window right now − an inhospitable turn in the weather and a reminder that, while it may be expressed in many different ways, hospitality means more than merely shelter from the storm.
It may take a formal gesture to signify the onset of hospitality: a ritualistic greeting (Irasshaimase!), the bestowal of a garland of flowers, the doffing of a hat, the removal of shoes. The popular novelist George R. R. Martin, no doubt inspired by ancient hospitality rituals still observed in Russia and Eastern Europe, presents a fictional scenario in which, by partaking of bread and salt under their host's roof, warriors entering the castle of an enemy ensure their own safety within his walls, while the host and his minions thereby secure their own safety as well. Hospitality as a reciprocal state of nonaggression.
The word hospitality is a descendant, via Latin, of the same Proto-Indo-European root from which both host and guest (also ghost!) are also derived. While the latter two words are generally considered to be opposite in meaning, they refer to social roles that were originally seen as reciprocal expressions of a single relationship − two sides of the very same coin. Not every English speaker may be aware of it, but the reciprocal connection is still there: you can't have a host without a guest nor a guest without a host.
With host, as so often happens in English, the noun eventually begat a verb. In ordinary usage (although not in telecommunications and TV show jargon), “to host” means to entertain (but not necessarily to be entertaining) or provide accommodations for. Is hosting the same as offering hospitality? Not necessarily, I'd say, but it can be.
These ruminations are occasioned by the resurgence of the term omotenashi − probably most often translated into English as “hospitality” − arising from the grandiose invocation of that term in a brief speech promoting Tokyo's bid to host the 2020 summer Olympics, originally delivered to the International Olympic Committee in September, and replayed incessantly ever since.
The speaker was one Christel Takigawa, a television news reader (an “anchor,” to my mind, is something you throw out of a boat) whose French-Japanese parentage evidently constituted an important credential. Apart from the aforesaid key word, the speech was delivered entirely in French, one of the IOC's two official languages (the other is English). The Japanese delegation to the IOC had a full share of the august and the eminent, including the prime minister and a member of the imperial family, but many people are apparently convinced that it was Takigawa, painstakingly enunciating o-mo-te-na-shi and hailing the city's honest citizens and friendly taxi drivers (!), who clinched the deal for Tokyo.
Prior to undertaking this essay, I doubt I ever used the word omotenashi in a sentence even once. It doesn't come up in conversation much, for one thing, and it's one of those words that tends to be larded with self-serving implications, especially the profit-oriented kind. Wander through the websites and you'll find omotenashi adorning the front end of many a commercial scheme, grist for a (slightly) refined carnival barker: Step right up! See Mount Fuji from your window! Getcher omotenashi here! Step right up! Given the way the word is used and abused by resort operators, hoteliers, restaurateurs, and the whole “hospitality industry,” among others, it's not surprising to find omotenashi rendered in puffed-up English as “selfless hospitality” or a “uniquely Japanese spirit of hospitality.” That's not a definition, it's advertising copy.
As befits such an inflated catchword, omotenashi has acquired a rarified pedigree, at least in the minds of some. It's claimed that the noun omotenashi was derived from the union of two component nouns: omote, which means “surface” or “front,” and nashi, meaning “without” or “the absence of.” Being “without a surface” or “without a front,” it's said, means being wholly open and receptive, eschewing separateness, such as that between host and guest. This, of course, is represented as the ideal attitude underlying true hospitality − a “uniquely Japanese” hospitality.
It's an appealing etymology, especially for people interested in commodifying omotenashi and peddling it to the rest of us. It's also apparently fictional. Evidently, omotenashi is actually simply the noun form of the verb motenasu, which means “treat (someone) a certain way” or “do (something) a certain way,” with the standard honorific prefix “o” appended. Having been derived from a verb that's broadly general in scope, the noun omotenashi seems to have acquired the specific connotation of “hospitality” through a prosaic process of conventional usage. It isn't quite such a satisfying story, but then again, this is the way language usually works.
At least one scholar has noted an inherent dissonance within the concept expressed by the English word hospitality. Isn't the host, as master of the premises, in a dominant position, and if so, doesn't this contradict the reciprocal relationship − and implied equality − between guest and host? I'm not qualified to take a position on that issue, but I have noticed dissonance in certain related expressions. For instance, it's common to describe the practice of proper hospitality as “making you feel at home,” but your home is the place where you pour the drinks and you serve the food. It would hardly be hospitable to impose those duties on a guest. The point is to graciously accommodate you as a visitor, to make you feel not at home.
A different kind of dissonance has attached itself to the term omotenashi, I'd say: the tension between omotenashi, the “uniquely Japanese” brand name and marketing tool, and the omotenashi that denotes actual attitudes and actions, collectively defined as “hospitality,” practiced by real people.
The snow is still falling here, and now I'm reminded of a yearend visit to the city of Niigata nearly 30 years ago and the heartwarming welcome I received at the home of a colleague's family there, while drifts piled up around the house for days. (The going wisdom at the time held that we foreigners would never set foot inside a private home.) Hospitality like that can't be bought at any price. True omotenashi can't be cheapened by the selling of the phony version; the sellers only cheapen themselves.
 (has＞)have been around （口語で）存在してきた（研究社『リーダーズ英和辞典』第3版，around adv 成句）．
 just about forever 継続の意の現在完了を強調する副詞句．
 prized 形容詞としては限定用法に限られる．ここでは「尊重する」の意の他動詞の過去分詞形．
 social grace cf. a person with all the social graces 社交上のたしなみをすべて身につけた人（研究社『新編 英和活用大辞典』grace n. 〈形容詞・名詞＋〉項）．
 doffing＞doff don と対義の古風とされる語だが，to take off your hat, especially to show respect for sb/sth との含意がある（Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary [OALD], 7th ed.）．
 observed 「見られる」の意味ではない．
 partake お相伴（しょうばん）にあずかる．
 their 本連載第3回（「アベノミクス」とか）の注31参照．
 his＝the host's.
 Proto-Indo-European root 印欧共通基語の語根（研究社『新英和大辞典』第6版，Proto-Indo-European 項および root1 n. 5b）．
 reciprocal expressions cf. reciprocal pronoun 相互代名詞，すなわち「2人以上のものの間における相互関係を示す代名詞で，現代英語では each other と one another である」（研究社『英語学要語辞典』）．
 begat 「生む，父に子ができる」の語義では beget の過去形として begot の代わりに begat が用いられると前出 OALD7 にある．
 these ruminations 以上の考察（の内容）．
 one＝a (certain) . . . …という人物．
 constituted an important credential ［国際舞台に立つ］資格の要（かなめ）を成した．
 had a full share of . . . …をそろえていた．
 the august and the eminent そうそうたる顔ぶれ．
 hailing＞hail salute と flag の掛け詞（かけことば）になっている．
 profit-oriented 利益追求型の（リーダーズ英和辞典3 oriented 項）．
 front end 裏側（back end）に対する「おもて」の意．
 grist for a . . . carnival barker この句全体は成句 grist for the mill のもじり．直訳すれば「サーカスの呼び込みの飯の種」の［（slightly）refined だから］現代版．
 getcher＝get your.
 as befits a . . . …にふさわしく（研究社『ルミナス英和辞典』第2版，befit 項）．
 acquire cf. acquire a new meaning（言葉などが）新しい意味をもつようになる（新編 英和活用大辞典，meaning〈動詞＋〉項）．
 a rarified(＝rarefied) pedigree 奥の深い謂（いわ）れ．
 conventional usage 習慣的に用いられること．
 [not] quite such . . . あまり…［でない］．
 not qualified to take a position on . . . …について（何か）言う資格はない，言える立場でない．
 The going wisdom at the time held that . . . 当時は…がよしとされていた．