Jorge Cabeza Fernandez

  • Peter Barakan

    Host

    Born in London in 1951, Peter earned a degree in Japanese from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). An expert on diverse forms of popular music, Peter is also a well-known TV and radio presenter. He has lived in Japan for 40 years and has a deep understanding of the language and culture.

  • Jorge Cabeza Fernandez

    Main guest

    After his first experience of air travel at the age of 10, Fernandez, from Gijon, northern Spain, knew he wanted to be a flight attendant. At university he majored in hospitality management, and he joined a Spanish airline following graduation. He moved to a major Japanese airline in 2003, and in 2013 became an instructor at the firm’s training center.

close

June 9, 2016

Japanophiles: Jorge Cabeza Fernandez

*You will leave the NHK website.

In 2015, Japan welcomed a record 19.7 million tourists from overseas. Considering that as recently as 2013 the country’s first-ever topping of the 10-million mark was itself lauded as a symbol of great progress, this near-doubling in only two years is nothing short of remarkable, especially given the lull in foreign visitors that followed 2011’s Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.  

Indeed, 2015 also marked the first time in over 40 years that the number of arrivals had exceeded the number of Japanese travelling abroad, and these record numbers have also brought record spending. Foreign visitors spent an amazing 3.48 trillion yen last year, making inbound tourism a new pillar of the Japanese economy.

These staggering numbers result from a confluence of various factors. Government initiatives aimed at boosting tourism have coincided with economic growth in neighboring Asian nations, a weak yen, and easing of visa restrictions for foreign visitors. Japan has also enjoyed a further boost in interest following Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.

One key word from the Olympic bid, and something that has been firmly in the spotlight given the boom in visitor numbers, is omotenashi, a concept that conveys a uniquely Japanese form of hospitality, service, and consideration for guests.

Along with hotels, department stores, and restaurants, one of the main industries leveraging the appeal of omotenashi is air travel. As Japan’s airlines look to expand their overseas business, they are also working to enhance the service they offer to flyers.

And with the comfort and satisfaction of international passengers in mind, ANA is one major Japanese airline that has sought to link omotenashi to a foreign perspective by augmenting their cabin crews with hand-picked foreign attendants.

japanese_staff.jpg

Each year, the firm’s commitment to hospitality is celebrated at the annual Omotenashi Professional Contest.

brazilian_staff.jpg

Foreign staff demonstrate their mastery of Japanese-style hospitality.

airplane.jpg

At the training center, staff are prepared for every eventuality.

One individual who has emerged to play a significant role in the refinement of this airline’s service is Spaniard Jorge Cabeza Fernandez. After joining the firm in 2003, Fernandez became the first foreign employee to become both a flight attendant for first class passengers and a purser.


Starting in 2013, his energy, communication skills, and commitment to customer service also saw Fernandez excel as an instructor at the company’s training center in Tokyo. Who better to explain, both to host Peter Barakan and to viewers, what it is that sets Japanese hospitality apart?
two_talking.jpg

Today’s interview was conducted in a mock-up of a first class cabin.

Peter: Do you think there are any fundamental differences between the West and Japan in their attitude towards service?

Jorge: I think the main difference is that, in Japan, customers are always the priority. Whereas, in the Western world, I’m not saying that we don’t provide a good customer service -- we do. But sometimes, the fact that the customer is the priority... we don’t really see it that way.

Peter: That’s interesting. If the customer isn’t always the priority in the West, what would be the priority?

Jorge: I wouldn’t know how to word it, but you know, it’s the same as when you go into a shop and you have the feeling that you’re being ignored, or that you’re not being helped -- whereas that would never happen in Japan. You walk into a shop, and everybody welcomes you with a smile, everybody’s willing to help. So that kind of attitude, I think, is one of the major differences between Japan and Western countries.

okinawa.jpg

In Japan, Fernandez has found a home away from home at this local izakaya.

lunch.jpg

Another way in which Fernandez has taken Japanese culture to heart is in the meticulous preparation of his own daily bento lunch.

The many years Fernandez has spent with this airline, as well as his experience in Japan, have given him insights into the finer points of omotenashi:

Jorge: One of the main things I have learned is how important it is to pay attention to detail. How important a tiny little thing can be for a certain person. And not just to meet our customers’ expectations, because that wouldn’t be enough. What we’re trying to do is exceed the customers’ expectations. That’s what would make a passenger feel special. So, in a way, what I’ve learned in these 13 years is how important it is to make people feel special.

Peter: And that attention to detail is perhaps the most Japanese thing. You see it in so many different situations every day.

Jorge: Oh, it’s like for example, when you go to somebody’s place, and of course you take off your shoes. And you walk in the house, and then when you’re about to leave, somebody has placed your shoes in the direction where it’s easier for you to put them on. We would never think about those things, would we?

As Tokyo 2020 approaches, the next few years are a perfect opportunity to combine the best of Japanese service with the global perspective offered by the growing number of foreign residents who have taken the culture of their host country to heart. Fernandez is on the front line of this new breed of Japanophile service professionals.

*You will leave the NHK website.