Many people have told me that some of their favorite blog posts from all the 2000 over that I have written, are from the “The Meaning Of…” series. I have written a few so far:
These are some of my favorite too. Recently I read the trending book called Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. I have my very own definition of Ikigai, but let’s reserve that for another time. What I want to say is that, sometimes I really learn so much from just researching about one single Japanese word that carry such profound, sophisticated meaning.
Today I want to talk about the meaning of Omoiyari. This topic actually came about when I read up on how the diaper which Sakura is wearing now – MamyPoko, is made with Omoiyari. But I’ll come to that later.
First, what is Omoiyari?
Omoiyari is a Japanese custom which means to be caring, considerate and compassionate towards others’ needs. It sounds simple as that, but just like Itadakimasu and Mottainai, this word carries a far deeper meaning, in every single aspect of a daily life and in all layers of society in Japan.
If you have been to Japan before, or even use a Japanese product, or visit a Japanese restaurant, or a Japanese hair salon, you will definitely have had experience the Japanese-style Omoiyari before in some form. I probably can write a book about this alone haha. Think of the plastic covers for umbrellas provided at the entrance of a shopping mall during rainy days. The basket provided in restaurant where you could put your bag instead of hanging it on the back of chair or place it on your lap. The shelf at combini cashier where you could rest your handbag while digging for your wallet. The blanket to cover your lap and keep you warm when you wash your hair in the salon. The arrows to indicate where people should line up in the subways. The people who automatically stand on the sides of the doors so that passengers from inside the train can easily alight to facilitate a smooth traffic flow. The people who wear face masks as so they don’t spread the flu bugs to other people…
They are all omoiyari.
And I’m really happy to know that some of these Omoiyari spirits have started to be practiced outside of Japan too! (I love SG’s subways!)
Sometimes it is overwhelmingly heartwarming, sometimes it is subtly inspiring, but it all comes from wanting to be sincerely considerate to the people around you and providing the best for your customers.
Let me illustrate a few examples of Omoiyari that I have encountered that left deep impressions in me…
1. Genius chair storage
Discovered this in my trip to Japan a few weeks ago. It’s not a new concept, though. Many Yakiniku shops provide bag and jacket covers so that your belongings don’t smell like a BBQ feast. It’s just that the ideas keep getting newer and more creative, I am forever inspired and excited to see to which extend Japan can go next with their Omoiyari practices.
2. Paper bags at retail stores
So once I went shopping in Franc Franc in Aoyama, Tokyo. I bought quite a lot of goods so the cashier placed it in a big paper bag and layered it in another paper bag for double protection, and before she passed the bag to me, she taped a soft, plastic wrap on the paper bag’s handle. I was like… why…? The moment I held the paper bag in my hand, I immediately understood why.
Have you ever held paper bags so heavy that your palms end up hurt from the roughness and weight of the handles pulling against your flesh? Yeap. This soft wrap is to prevent that from happening. I was so overwhelmed by this that I almost had wet eyes lol. Not exaggerating haha.
Of course other than this, the cashier also offers a plastic cover for your paper bag during a rainy day (so that it doesn’t get wet), and if you already carry a few paper bags with you, they will offer a bigger paper bag so that you can put everything inside!!! The level of omoiyari is remarkable.
3. Rain cover for Geta (traditional clogs for kimono wear)
I blogged about this in my previous blog post during my visit to Kanazawa.
How is this not a super genius innovation based on Omoiyari? Not only it prevents the wearer’s feet from getting wet, it also protects the Geta from water damage, WHILE preserving good aesthetic for the entire outfit as you can barely notice it. This is definitely first class Omoiyari.
4.The girls in the bus
Sometimes Omoiyari also means to be less self-centered and more aware of what’s happening around you.
I remember my girly trip to Tokyo with a few fellow bloggers many years ago. We landed in Narita, and excitedly took the limousine bus to get to our hotel in Shinjuku. A girl friend and I picked the seats behind two young girls (maybe high school students), and the moment we sat down, they carefully put their seat back up right from their original comfortably reclined position. I knew that it was so that the reclined seats won’t bother the passengers behind (although we would have been totally fine with it).
Omoiyari coming from two teenagers, I felt really touched and slightly ashamed at the same time. I used to be the person who, at the very moment the seatbelt sign turns off on an airplane, immediately reclines her seats to the very maximum. >.< So much to learn from this episode! Nowadays, I still recline my seat (imagine the torture if you don’t! haha), but I copied what other Japanese passengers do – to check if the person behind you is already resting, and is not using the folded table for eating/reading, before I gently and slowly recline the seat back. I hope more people can practice this simple act of Omoiyari because so many times I get a shock from the sudden jerk (I mean the action, not the person 😂) of the seat in front of me.
5.Tidying up your table in restaurants
This stretches beyond just putting back the food tray in fast food chains. The first time I saw the danna do this when we first started dating, I thought he was borderline OCD. But then soon I realized that every other Japanese diners are doing the same thing.
Well, he is one who savors his food without complaints (itadakimasu), and would gobble up everything without wasting even if he is too full (mottainai). As soon as he finishes a meal, he begins stacking all the bowls, plates, and beverage glasses (usually all empty, apart from fish bones, leftover gravy and squeezed lemon slice) back into the food tray (if there’s one). After he is done with that, he starts to wipe the table clean with the wet napkin provided earlier. At first I was puzzled. Isn’t this the waitstaff’s job??? Why is he doing all this on their behalf?? (And I am used to hearing justifications from people around me who habitually litter, saying that if they keep the streets too clean, all the cleaners will lose their jobs so they are actually contributing job opportunities to the country by throwing cigarette butts on the floor 😱.)
Coming from the service line all of his life, I guess he should know best. Stacking the utensils is so that the waitstaff can swiftly bring it away and serve the next customer. Cleaning up the mess left on the table is… well, your responsibility as a well-mannered customer. Don’t you remember the sign you see in aircraft wash room? “Kindly wipe the basin for the comfort of the next passenger”. Yes we are the paying customer, but a little Omoiyari goes a long way, around and back to you.
The danna’s Omoiyari is really on a whole new level. We often had to quickly finish our piping hot bowl of noodles in a tiny ramen shop (especially when we are with the kids as we are taking up three or four spaces for less than 3 pax’s order) because he sees a queue starting to form outside. After a night in ryokan or hotel, he will make the bed, fold the used towels, and put away all trash appropriately. After marrying him for 6 years, I have formed the habit of picking up every single food bits and wipe off spilled drinks on the table, sofa, sometimes even floor tiles that my babies intentionally or unintentionally fling off the dining table in various restaurants. At first it is a little tiring to have to care about all these little details… but you get used to it. I like having Omoiyari. It teaches us responsibility as a caring individual.
6. The awesome packaging
Japanese packaging are so awesome that I wrote a blog post about it. These packagings are designed not just to be pretty or cool, but stem from the concept of Omoiyari for (let me quote myself from that blog post-) the convenience, comfort and happiness of the person who is using it. It is made with heart and love (and some mad creative skills).
Just to add one more awesomeness to that list – these are the socks for babies from UNIQLO.
(Sakura was 6 months old back then ^^)
Instead of the sharp metal clips that may accidentally hurt or the annoying plastic thread which you have to cut off (and breaks into two which more often than not you end up not being able to find either piece), it uses a soft paper sticker to tape the socks together.
Also, if you haven’t noticed already, all UNIQLO’s baby wear are individually sealed in a plastic cover. This is to keep the products protected from any external factors during storage and prior to selling. There’s also a warning seal at the opening with “DO NOT OPEN” written. This is to deter the products from being opened prior to purchase and being contaminated with any airborne chemicals. I like the care they put into their products especially for our fragile little humans.
Something so so small that seems insignificant, but I find endless inspiration from little things in life like this.
7. MamyPoko designs
And yes, MamyPoko!! In my previous post, The Secrets of Japan-Quality Baby Care, I discovered how MamyPoko are designed to make a baby happy.
Having most of the things in my home Japan-quality and after using Japanese products for so many years, I truly believe that when science and technology are guided by a heart that sincerely cares, the results will be special and inspiring. There are so many mindblowing products I have encountered based on this concept!
Coming from a Japanese company, MamyPoko embodies Japanese values, and Omoiyari is the key to the science and design behind this No.1 baby diaper in Japan. And extra Omoiyari is especially needed for babies since they can’t talk yet!
And because of this desire to care, a diaper that is effortlessly convenient for mommies and reassuringly comfortable for the babies is born.
Here’s how Omoiyari has helped design some of the key features of MamyPoko Air Fit:
Air Silky material
Did you know that a newborn baby’s skin is only half as thick as an adult’s? 😱 And to truly care for baby’s ultra delicate skin, Air Silky material is specially designed with micro-fiber that is luxuriously soft as silk.
Babies feel happier because they are in better comfort. And how do we know this? By measuring the baby’s cerebral blood flow using Near Infra Red Spectroscopy – when a baby feels comfortable, cerebral blood flow increases. It showed that babies’ cerebral blood flow is 6 times higher when they are wearing the new material!
(Sakura trying to help Stella Lou put on a new diaper before putting her to bed.)
2. 3D shape for all stages
MamyPoko Air Fit is also designed to fit your growing baby at different stages. The tape type has a 3D shape that delicately conforms to a newborn baby’s C curve and it prevents leakage without fitting too tightly.
From the tape-type for a newborn to the pants-type for active walking toddlers, they are designed differently so that the diaper follows baby’s movement and wraps around baby’s body snuggly.
I thought that as long as it absorbs well and maybe look slightly cute, a diaper has done its job enough.
After all it’s disposable, not something so precious that you can keep for years and make it your heirloom lol (a soiled diaper would indeed make the worst heirloom ever lol). But it looks like even for something as short-lived as a diaper, the Japanese can’t settle with less than immaculate. And designing the perfect diaper takes more than just good absorption and attractive designs. So much scientific research and caring thoughts were put into making sure that every minute that the baby stays in the diaper is comfy and happy.
I think that’s admirable. I want to thank everyone who has ever helped design good things that help make my life happy and convenient.
Happy baby, happy mommy.
Japanese dedication to providing ever-improving high quality products just never ceases to amaze me. I’m really happy that I’m supporting brands that truly cares for its customers’s wellbeing and happiness. ^^
Do share with me if you have encountered any Omoiyari from your experiences. ^^