Image source: 『このはな綺譚』アニメ公式 on Twitter

We’ve all seen a show that reminds us of a job we did in the past. The anime series Konohana Kitan brings me back to a time I worked part-time at a traditional Japanese hot-spring inn.

In Konohana Kitan, a female fox spirit named Yuzu is sent to work at a traditional Japanese inn called Konohanatei so she can learn about the outside world. Konohanatei doesn’t just service humans, though. It also accommodates a large number of spirits, gods, and any number of whimsical guests. And Yuzu gets to interact with a large number of guests and go on the occasional adventure.

While the series tends to focus on the adventure aspect of the Yuzu’s story, a lot of the mundane daily routines she goes through at Konohanatei rings near true to life. Her workload is what you’d expect from a nakai (a woman who serves guests at traditional Japanese restaurants and inns). This isn’t just the servicing of guests, but also the cleaning up after and entertaining them.

Years ago, I worked part-time at a traditional Japanese hot-spring inn as the male counterpart of a nakai. In actuality, I was closer to a nakai assistant. And let me tell you, Konohana Kitan brings up a lot of those memories.

One thing that’s all too familiar for me with Yuzu is her live-in status at Konohanatei. This can be taken two different ways, depending on how you feel about living at your place of work. In all honesty, it’s a very nice experience because the owners of inns essentially provide everything for you. This includes a room, bed/futon, food, a nice large public bath (for those who enjoy soaking in a tub), utilities, and a few other things. Granted, a lot of the employee rooms are doubles, so there’s a certain lack of privacy. However, as we’ve seen in the series, this allows Yuzu to to become closer to her colleagues.

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In fact, if we look back at the fourth episode of the series, we get a good look at what the employee accommodations can be like at a traditional Japanese inn. In the episode, we see a strange egg attach to two of Konohanatei’s nakai. So, the two take a the day off to figure out what the egg is. In actuality, they spend the day sleeping in their room. Their rooms are sparse, but the Japanese sliding doors, tatami mats, and the futon in the middle of the room accentuate them. Of course, the girls in the series spruce up their rooms a bit with vanity mirrors and other accouterments. But while these Spartan conditions may not seem like much, they offer the characters a nice little get away within Konohanatei.

It’s the work Yuzu does that really brings back memories of working at a traditional Japanese inn. We don’t see a lot of the day-to-day tasks in the series, but what sticks out are Yuzu’s interactions with the guests. As a service job, it’s important for the nakai to entertain the guests. Sometimes that means dancing (like in the third episode). Other times it’s talking with the guests (like in the fourth episode).

Personally, I find the later far more engaging not only as a worker, but also as a viewer. It gives you a sense of what your guests are like and even humor them with fun talk. The character Natsume does this by talking about sumo with a young guest in the fourth episode and Yuzu about shooting stars in the first. While you only get to talk with the guests briefly, they can leave an impact on you.

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For instance, when I was helping a nakai prepare futons for guests, I briefly noticed some Power Rangers were on the music program on TV. I made a quick quip about it and that sparked the interest of the guest’s young son. This is how Konohana Kitan presents a few of the conversation pieces as well. One of the nakai or guests will make a short comment that balloons into a larger conversation piece.

The fifth episode does a wonderful job of this with a mother sewing kimonos for her daughter. The little conversation starts off about sewing, but then grows into a conversation about dreams. It’s a beautiful little piece and you can see it affect the character Kiri and the mother. And that’s what’s important, opening up just enough to giving your guests the homely feel. Without it, the stay is no different than a modern style hotel.  

If there’s one thing the series really gets right, though, it’s that you treat the Okami (the chief manager and face of a traditional Japanese inn) with the utmost respect. This is fairly common knowledge in the inn industry in Japan, and we see it come up in the series every so often. When we see Konohanatei’s Okami, she has a presence about her that’s gentle, yet imposing. This gives her command of every situation. This includes the kind words when she hires Yuzu to the harsh treatment of expelling a customer for being rowdy. And that’s what an Okami is like in real life: Gentle and polite when she needs to be, stern when it’s called for. Luckily, Yuzu hasn’t gotten on her Okami’s bad side because that can be a chilling experience—not that I’ve been on the receiving end of an Okami’s wrath.

Image source: 『このはな綺譚』アニメ公式 on Twitter

While in real-life traditional Japanese hot-spring inns don’t service magical and whimsical guests, the work relationships and the work itself is similar to that in Konohana Kitan. Because of that I’m taken back to a simpler time in my life, were all I worried about was making sure the customers in front of me were satisfied with the inns service.

Konohana Kitan is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and FUNimation.

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