Why Are Starbucks Customers in Japan not Called by Their Names?

  • “One hot caramel macchiato for Jane.” That’s the usual spiel of the Starbucks crew when orders are ready for customers to pick up. However, this does not apply to Starbucks Japan. How come?

    Not on First Name Basis

    In the Land of the Rising Sun, etiquette dictates that customers should be called by their orders and not their names. This may be rather unusual in some countries like the United States and the Philippines, where customers give their first name when placing an order at the Starbucks counter. But somehow this makes sense in Japan.

    Surnames, Honorifics and Privacy

    Similar to China and Korea, in Japan’s naming system one usually starts with the surname followed by the first name. If the barista would write down the order of a man named Takeshi Jin, there could be a lot of Takeshi’s waiting in line as it is a very common name. This can potentially cause confusion amongst the customers. Furthermore, Japan is very particular with titles and honorifics (i.e. the title at the end of the name -san, -sama, -kun, -chan, and -sensei), which is what makes it very rude to simply call someone with his or her first name. In fact, only close friends and children are usually called by their first names. For this reason, you can expect Starbucks Japan baristas to give you a neutral treatment.

    As others would see it, Japan’s take on the usage of first names may be very stiff. But the Japanese value their privacy, and using first names is considered intrusive in their culture. You can compare it to the way some people from Great Britain feel, where some also find it discomforting to be treated too casual in a coffee shop when they only want a to grab a cup of coffee and go sans the socializing part.

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