CULTURAL POTPOURRI| From Ajinomoto’s Umami to Sharp’s Omotenashi

IT WAS IN 2004 when Manila’s entourage of respected chefs, culinary specialists, nutritionists dieticians, and doctors headed by Ajinomoto Philippines Corporation’s Japanese officers came to town to talk about the Japanese word umami. Umami is now internationally recognized as the 5th basic taste (this is according to the International Glutamate Information Service) which describes the pleasurable ‘savory-ness’ of food. We really don’t have a common term in Filipino for it although the word malinamnam comes close.

     It was during Dr. Josefa Eusebio’s introduction on umami as a universal taste the world over that she narrated the story of a Japanese scientist named Prof. Kikunae Ikeda. She detailed, “It was almost a century ago when Prof. Ikeda recognized a common factor in the complex flavors of asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat, which was quite distinct and could not be classified under the well defined taste qualities like sweet, sour, salty and bitter. He started investigating the main characteristic taste of dried seaweed (konbu), because he could detect it most clearly in soup stock (dashi) prepared with konbu. Dashi has been traditionally used in Japanese cuisine for more than a thousand years. Ikeda discovered that the distinct taste was produced by glutamate contained in dried konbu, and named it umami.”


(L-R): TAKAHIRO Tanaka, Junko Nakagawa, Yoshifumi Takeda, Kazuo Kito, and Nick Taok


SHARP Officers & Dept. heads in Davao

     So it was after the discovery of umami that Ikeda developed a new cooking ingredient which eventually was recognized as the best flavoring substance based on monosodium glutamate (MSG) or what we commonly call vetsin. MSG was first marketed in Japan in 1908 while the West’s more advanced version known as the bouillon cubes was commercially manufactured by Julius Magi as early as 1882. The Magi bouillon (popularly known as Magi cubes) and Ikeda’s umami, both containing the key component of glutamate, reflect the traditional dietary culture in the world today.

     Dr. Lara Alentajan-Aleta debunked previous adverse reports related to MSG use as food ingredient. “It is one of the most thoroughly tested of all food ingredients, with hundreds of scientific studies confirming its safe and effective use. MSG’s safety has been repeatedly affirmed by regulators and scientific agencies around the world.” She claimed that there is no evidence of MSG being carcinogenic, teratogenic, neurotoxic, anaphylactic and allergenic. The doctora even disproved that MSG causes the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome we readily believe in!

     Eleven years later and here comes Sharp, the Japanese brand known for its simple engineering marvels designed to make our daily life easier and more convenient with its uniquely innovative electronic products. Sharp recently launched in Davao its new concept on service it calls “omotenashi.” If one has gone to and experienced Japan, one would readily agree that the best customer service to be had in this world is from the Japanese. How long before Sharp’s omotenashi concept also becomes internationally recognized to stand for the ideal in customer service, only time and peoples’ culture will tell.

     “Omotenashi is the Japanese word for ‘hospitality’—but it means more than that. For the Japanese, omotenashi is the only way to treat a guest or a customer. It is reflected in many of their traditions—the tea ceremony is a particularly vivid example of the practice. A traditional tea ceremony in Japan is meticulously planned according to the event, the season, and the guests in attendance. Each step that goes into preparing the tea is carefully performed in front of the guest. For the Japanese, service is an art form,” emphasized Ms. Junko Nakagawa, Sharp’s Group Deputy Manager/Gen. Man. for CS Planning.

     “With the tagline, ‘Service Beyond Expectations,’ omotenashi by Sharp is all about recreating the Japanese style of hospitality which entails a great deal of empathy and respect for customers. This allows a customer service representative, a Sharp specialist, to anticipate what the customer needs at any given moment,” informed Mr. Takahiro Tanaka, Sharp’s President and General Manager.

     “The omotenashi mindset is a very particular kind of customer service mindset. It focuses even on the smallest of details that make a big difference—whether it’s arriving five minutes earlier for a product pickup for repair, or following through a week after the repair to check up on the product—and the bigger picture: the 1-1-1 initiative, which promises a 1-hour revert, 1-day response, and a 1-week repair…” added Mr. Yoshifumi Takeda, Sharp’s Group General Manager. One can only despair on the Pinoy’s Filipino time and mañana culture in contrast to the Japanese value of precious time.

     With the launch of Sharp’s newly renovated Davao Service Center (#44 Sobrecary St., Davao City) last March 23, 2015, Mindanaoans can now experience, hopefully, the Japanese style of omotenashi customer service. This is one valuable lesson on work ethics the Japanese businessmen of Sharp Corporation are teaching us.

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