Robotic nature of customer service in Japan
Illustration: Christi Rochin

The Customer Is God Delusion

The robotic nature of service in Japan can get decidedly less than personal

As an agnostic, I have never really felt comfortable with the whole “customer is God” philosophy. I know I’m supposed to feel charmed, but I can’t help experiencing mild embarrassment as I am showered with “welcomes” and “thank yous” and “I’ll be waiting for your next visits” by shop staff in Japan, often when I have only dropped into their store to get out of the rain. Basically, I don’t think I’ve really earned it.

Almost every day I cut through the food hall of the Keio department store in Shinjuku station. I only occasionally buy anything, but receive the kind of cacophonous, collective welcome that was once reserved for triumphant Roman generals returning from battle. You feel that if the positivity and enthusiasm of the staff could only be harnessed, it could surely take care of Japan’s energy needs for decades. And all this love could quite easily go to your head—I almost feel the need for someone at my side to whisper in my ear: “Remember, you are only a customer.”

Many find all of this wonderful, especially visitors from countries with a more hit and miss service ethic—which, let’s face it, is basically the rest of the world—but it has never quite worked for me. There is something rather unsettling about this scripted Stepford Wives style of service, where shopworn phrases straight out of the training manual are delivered in a squeaky falsetto with a predictably precise singsong cadence, over and over again.

For the complete article by Philip Patrick and a rather controversial discussion go to

Other posts by Japan Inc: