Yuto Ogawa (YO) is “nakai” (concierge and total service operator) at Yumeya. Hidden away in a lush of green and tranquility, Yumeya is one of Japan’s most renowned ryokan (traditional inn), located in within the Iwamuro Onsen area (Niigata Prefecture), where repeat visitors come from all over the country to disconnect from busy life and to enjoy refined cuisine, hot springs in a relaxed and homey setting, reminiscent of bygone days.
CV: Ogawa-san, how did it happen that you became a nakai at Yumeya?
YO: I was always fascinated with hospitality services and people business, even from an early stage in my life. As a kid, I could not stop wonder what it was that distinguished people working in hospitality from the rest. They always seemed to have an answer to every single question and there was a certain kind of dignity, refinement, and sophistication that they inspire even before they started talking. Be it a hotel, a restaurant or a train service – it was obvious to me that these were the some of the hardest working people making the world a more conformable place for everyone else.
I was in my high school days when one of the senior executives from Yumeya visited our school and talked to us about hospitality, service management and people operations. I have no words to describe the amount of my fascination during that inspirational talk. I knew that I wanted to work in that place, no matter what, and I instantaneously applied. To my surprise, they called me in for a few interviews, which all seemed like natural discussions with old time friends to me, and soon upon my graduation from high-school I joined Yumeya as one of the youngest employees.
CV: So, you chose to work rather than pursue college education?
YO: It wasn’t really one choice over the other. I knew that working at such a well-known place as Yumeya was a rare opportunity and, to people like myself, a heaven-sent gift. I just couldn’t wait to start working and learning more about this fascinating industry right away.
CV: How were your early days at Yumeya?
YO: Busy! I could not even imagine how much hard work was really going on behind the scenes. Being young and totally inexperienced surely concerned some of my senior colleagues, but everyone was kind and extremely accommodating. Just a few days later I felt that I was truly belonging to some kind of extended family. Everyone was taking amazing care of everyone else and they all worked together in a bewilderingly orchestrated manner to create and deliver a unique, genuine and truly heartwarming guest experience.
CV: Who do you think your competitors are?
YO: Some may think that it is the big-name hotels and resorts, maybe some exclusive chalets and auberge restaurants all over the country. To me, personally, it is anyone who can produce a more memorable experience than us. I like to believe, though, that we are totally unique in our own way and that the refined combination of cuisine, accommodation, onsen (hot springs), atmosphere and human touch makes us both a hospitality landmark for Niigata, but also a true symbol of modern Japanese hospitality.
CV: What do you like most about your job?
YO: First of all, the fact that I interact with such a wide variety of people on a daily basis. There never is a boring day here at Yumeya. We have guests joining us from all over the country and many of them are repeaters who seem to be coming back “home” to Yumeya periodically. I have no words to express how much joy this gives to us.
”"As you well know, in Japan we have this saying 一期一会 (いちごいちえ). Treasure every meeting, every opportunity and interaction.”Yuto OgawaNakai, Yumeya
I truly believe in this. In our rush for meeting deadlines and delivering work results on time, we often forget about one of the most precious gifts that life is presenting us: meeting others. To me, every single meeting, every single encounter is an opportunity to connect, to learn, and to share. What could be more exciting? What could be more important?
Next, it is the fact that I can learn and grow as a hospitality professional extremely fast. It feels like I am on a fast track career development program every single day. While in major hotels and resorts, people spend years rotating from one role to another. At Yumeya, my job as a nakai is a fantastic combination of concierge, bellboy, in-house guide, facility host, waiter, sommelier and so many other roles. I am also invested with an incredible amount of autonomy and responsibility. I take huge amount of pride in my job and I feel that I am growing through each new experience and guest interaction.
CV: Are you thinking of ever pursuing a college degree?
YO: I am definitely not excluding that possibility. It may happen one day. However, if I ever go to university, I want to study things that I am interested in and I want to develop skills that will help my career in a relevant manner. I am not interested in taking a college degree just for the sake of having one.
I am now learning more about life, people operations, communications and service management than many people ever do at school. I am developing a vast array of social skills and I am discovering so many new things about myself and those around me that I sometimes feel that I need a break to put my thoughts and memories in order, in order to avoid forgetting something important.
I know that life, of Fate, or Karma, or whatever you may want to call it, has its whimsical and surprising way. I know that I will know when the time has come for another stage in my life and my career. In between now and then, though, I still have so many more things to learn and I look forward to welcoming diverse guests back “home” to Yumeya.
CV: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us, Ogawa-san! I am sure that Yumeya will be “home” to many.
YO: A world of thanks to you for your visit and your friendship! We look forward to welcoming you back “home” soon!