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Japanese customer service is often praised, but the training for that generally good level of service often results in inflexibility. In the United States, you can ask for substitutions or additions to orders, in both regular restaurants and fast food places. In Japan, you normally cannot substitute anything or make any special requests. This makes some people think that Japan’s customer service is all surface and not sincere; a result of training rather than true thoughtfulness and willingness to serve the customer.
The core problem is inflexibility. Inflexibility in Japan isn’t limited to the service industry. The image of salarymen points to the same problem of diligence without originality or initiative, and an inability to cope with situations outside assigned duties. The stereotype indicates that the inflexibility is so strong that even a salaryman’s activities in his free time are either highly structured, or socially tied to his office.
Another indication of societal inflexibility is in intellectual achievements. Japan has relatively few Nobel Prize laureates despite patent applications nearly as high as the United States, which has roughly 3 times the population of Japan. What this shows is that Japanese tend not to have breakthroughs in original research, but do well with process- and group-based thinking.
In order for Japan to continue to achieve well in the future, when the effects of the Information Age will be felt more strongly, Japanese society will need to encourage flexibility and independent thinking. Currently, social pressures have resulted in phenomena such as hikikomori, freeter, and NEET for a distressingly large number of young people who are negatively affected by the rigidity of Japanese education and employment culture.