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America and Japan: The Service Experience Essay

Updated August 9, 2022

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America and Japan: The Service Experience Essay essay

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The service experience includes not only the staff one interacts with, but the way they are interacted with, the presentation of the interaction, the processes behind it, and everything in between. A service experience includes all the non-tangible parts of any purchase.

The service experience in Japan is quite a lot like it is in America, with a few key differences. Japanese service is very formal, to the extent that they have special dialect of the language they speak when performing services. They will bow frequently, wear fresh uniforms, and be wholly deferent to the customer. They have a subservient attitude towards customers. In America, service is usually casual and friendly – you may even build a rapport with your service provider and get to know them on a person level. This is not acceptable in Japan.

This is what Japan’s service experience has looked like for decades, but it is currently changing, and rapidly. Japan’s population has been in a massive downfall, resulting in a huge lack of human labor. They are turning to automation to solve the problem, but at the expense of their famous face-to-face interactions. Some believe this could create a hole in their market, creating an opportunity for foreign companies to fill that hole.

It is important for tourists, marketers, and business owners alike to keep up with these changes. Japan is in a very fragile state and we are likely to see major changes in the coming years, in many different ways, but especially in the service sector.

Cultural Diversity

Every country, city, and town around the world has its quirks, especially in the service industry. In some places, when you sit down for a haircut, meal, or even a tattoo, you are supposed to take what they give you. That is on the extreme end – but on the normal end, they are usually differences of etiquette and culture. For example, hand gestures will have entirely different meanings depending on where you are in the world. As any traveler knows, these differences are vital to learn before visiting a new country, for safety’s sake. But for anyone in business, knowing these differences is even more important – for your livelihood’s sake. Before we get into that however, we need to define what a service experience includes.

The Service Experience

When asked to think of a service offering, one might envision a landscaping crew, house cleaners, or a mechanic. These are indeed services, but their service also includes their business processes, the skills and attitudes of their employees, and the presentation of it all. These items combined creates the benefit concept, which is the combination of all tangible and intangible aspects of a purchase. The more elements in a service purchase’s benefit package, the happier the customer will be – and perhaps willing to pay a little bit more.

Starbuck’s Coffee is a perfect specimen. Their primary method of adding perceived value to your Venti Iced Caramel Macchiato is through the environment they have cultivated inside: spaciousness for private conversations, comfortable seating and free Wi-Fi for extended study sessions, gentle lighting for early risers, and a staff that is told to “Be playful” behind the bar. In the drive thru, they have cameras so that deaf customers can order in sign language. Because of all the added value, they can charge $6-8 for a single large latte, but no one really complains because you are buying into the experience. The same goes with any movie theater: beautiful carpet, elaborate concession stands, arcade games, and private party rooms. All these elements create the service experience, and this is true no matter where you go.

The Service Sector

Firstly, the Japanese service sector is quite a lot like ours. According to a CIA publishing about 2017, Japan’s service sector accounted for 71.4% of its GDP, and America’s accounted for 80.2% (CIA, 2018). A chart on the next page from the Japanese Finance Ministry shows the percent change in their service sector from 2012 to Q2 2018. Just as in America, shipping services always spike in Q4 for the holidays. Interestingly, it appears their retail sector drops when shipping services spike, and vice versa. This is likely due to Japan’s lack of space and their struggle to balance tourist and retail areas with living quarters for locals. One of the main reasons for the service sector’s importance in Japan is this lack of space – it is not conducive to an environment where people perform their own services, such as changing your oil or reupholstering a couch. There simply is not enough room in studio apartments to complete these tasks, so help must be employed.

Differences in Experience

Despite having a very similar service offering to America, Japanese services have a very different experience. Service staff in Japan are trained in a special form of the language called “Keigo”, which is very formal and leads to long, complex sentences. Service staff in America on the other hand will be very friendly and casual with customers, unless at a formal event or restaurant. It is not appropriate for Japanese staff to talk about their personal lives, make small talk, or anything to create a rapport with customers (Spacey, 2015). Even though everything about the Japanese service experience is formal, one must yell, “Sumimasen!” which means “excuse me”, to have a server come to your table. In America, this would be considered rude, but Japanese wait staff do not hover around tables for privacy’s sake, which in a way is indeed more formal. Also, at Japanese restaurants, expect a “table charge” should you want to sit down to a meal – but at least it usually comes with a “complimentary” dessert ( japan talk again). This again comes back to the fact that the country is a small collection of islands.

This has been the landscape of Japan’s service industry for decades, but times are changing. Japan’s population has been shrinking hand over fist every year, and now experts at Reuters say “The working-age population is forecast to shrink by about a third in the next half century, and companies simply cannot hire enough workers” (White, 2018). This has led to a massive amount of Japanese companies switching to self-service or otherwise automating what have previously been human roles. Automation seems to be the solution, but this will change the service landscape drastically. Japan has a word for their formal, subservient style of hospitality: omotenashi. This has been the key to Japan’s success according to Reuters, “Omotenashi helped Japan rank No. 1 last year in customer satisfaction”. As their population decreases and automation increases, the level of omotenashi will plunge, completely changing Japan’s service experience as we know it.

For tourists, it is obvious why one should know these differences. As marketers, it is a little more nebulous. Japan’s level of formality means they are easily offendable people. Without understanding the nuances of their culture, a marketer could ruin their company’s name very easily. The depth of their culture might warrant consulting locals before running any advertising.

The evolving service market in Japan is also important to follow because it accounts for over 70% of its total GDP. Should the service market there fail, it would be bad for Japan, but that could be construed as an opportunity for foreign companies to set up shop there. In the future, Japan may even offer incentives for companies to migrate there in attempt to revive the sector. This could be a big opportunity for the companies with the foresight to follow this development. For marketers, it may even be a good time to try and start a new trend there during that time of flux.

Although America set the stage for Japan’s service industry after World War II, the industries have divulged into two very different experiences. American service is loose, friendly, and casual. Japanese service is formal, subservient, and deferent to the customer, always. Japan places a lot of value on face-to-face experiences, but that is changing as their population has become wildly unsustainable. Self-service, automation, and other technologies are forecasted to take over the human element in just the next handful of years in Japan. While this is harmful to Japanese culture, it may propose a large opportunity for foreign investors and companies in the future. Marketers and business owners need to follow this trend, or even perhaps go ahead and make connections there. Even so, marketers need to keep track to know where their audience’s head is at, because in Japan, it is rapidly changing.


  1. Central Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency,
  2. Reuters. “Capex Japan 2018.” Capex Japan 2018,
  3. Spacey, John. “14 Important Things To Know About Service in Japan.” Japan Talk, Oct. 2015,
  4. White, Stanley. “Japan Invests in Service Industry, Reshaping Its Legendary Hospitality.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 5 Nov. 2018,
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