X is for Xenia

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For today’s A to Z Challenge, I learned a new word! X is for XeniaXenia is an ancient Greek word that expresses the concept of hospitality and is roughly translated as “guest-friendship.” In Japanese, the word for hospitality is omotenashi おもてなし, which means “to entertain guests wholeheartedly.”

Both concepts of hospitality focus on the needs of the guest. With omotenashi, the host must anticipate the guest’s needs. With xenia, the host must see to the food, drink, and board needs of the guest first and foremost. Omotenashi is provided without an expectation of receiving a reward in return; xenia is provided with only an expectation that the guest will not be a burden on the host.

Alcove at Hotel Kajikaso

Now, I’ve never been to Greece, so I am not sure what modern xenia looks like, as most information I found on the topic comes from ancient Greece and myths such as The Odyssey. However, I know that omotenashi is alive and well in Japanese service culture. From hotels and restaurants, to department stores and even private homes, omotenashi is an important part of Japanese culture. Omotenashi is part of why there is no tipping culture in Japan, and is found in all the minute details of the service industry.

Japanese Ryokan Meal

Different countries have different forms of hospitality, each unique to the culture and people in that country. Hospitality may be as simple as a glass of water upon arrival, or as lavish as a feast right out of The Odyssey. Hospitality is important when one travels abroad, because it makes one feel welcome in a foreign place.

Sometimes the best hospitality can be the little things that you almost don’t notice because they happen organically. These are the little things that make your visit just that much more pleasant, but they almost don’t register as hospitality because the glass of water is already at your table, the hot towel is within your reach, and the room is already made up.

Rotenburo at Hotel Kajikaso

My best experience with hospitality was during my honeymoon visit to Hakone 箱根町 in Japan, which is famous for its hot springs or onsen 温泉. My husband and I stayed at Hotel Kajikaso ホテル河鹿荘, and I found out after my father-in-law booked the room that the hotel belonged to the family of a friend of mine who had studied English at my university. He messaged me after I posted about it on Facebook, and when we returned to the room that day, we had a bowl of fresh fruit waiting for us. Later that night he came from Tokyo to visit with us, and we spent the evening catching up. It was just a small gesture, but sharing the delicious fruit with an old friend was a wonderful treat.

What is your favorite hospitality experience? What kind of unique hospitality customs do you have where you live? Let me know in the comments!

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