Farewells can be sad, but in a Japanese business saying good-bye can be a pain because of the country’s elevator etiquette.

Before I became a hard-hitting journalist for SoraNews24, I used to work in the hospitality industry, specifically in hotel marketing. The job required me to inspect client properties and meet with their managers, and while I visited hotels of many different sizes, styles, and price points, the meetings almost always ended in the same way.

The client would thank me for taking the time to come to their hotel, I’d thank them for taking the time to meet me, and we’d say good-bye and bow…then the client would walk with me to the elevator and we’d repeat the whole process.

While the rigidity of Japanese business etiquette often gets blown out of proportion, seeing visitors off at the elevator is very much the norm at the end of a meeting. But traditional customs tend to erode over time, and even some of SoraNews24’s Japanese-born staff thinks the whole elevator good-bye thing can be a pain. So we decided to get the Internet’s opinion with a Twitter poll.

The scenario we set up was:

Imagine you’ve gone to someone’s office for a business meeting. After the meeting finished, one of the employees walked to the elevator with you to see you off. You get inside the elevator, and you and the employee both continue to bow at each other until the doors close.

Do you really think it’s necessary to have someone see you off like this?

Our poll garnered 2,056 responses, and the respondents’ preference was pretty clear, with 74 percent saying the gesture is unnecessary. Detractors said they find it stuffy and pointless, but if so many people don’t see a need for the elevator send-off, why does it persist?

Largely because in Japan, someone who visits your office, even as a client, is a guest. As a matter of fact, the Japanese word okyaku-san is used for “guest,” “client,” and “customer,” and with the importance Japan places on hospitality and customer service, most companies feel it’s better to be safe than sorry, After all, even if 74 percent of the poll’s respondents said they think seeing someone off at the elevator is unnecessary, that leaves more than a fourth of the participants who feel that yes, the send-off is a requirement for proper manners.

Or, as one commenter on the poll put it:

“The visitor may not think it’s necessary, but the host thinks not doing it might be construed as rude, so he goes ahead and does it. It seems like we could solve the whole thing if the visitor would say ‘I can see myself out’ when leaving the conference room.”

Of course, preemptively turning down someone’s hospitality could also be construed as impolite, and so this bit of Japanese elevator etiquette isn’t likely to disappear any time soon, even if some people wish it would.

Top image ©SoraNews24
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