Japan Airlines’ flight attendants are taking their customer service skills from the aircraft cabin to Shinto Shrines. The airline thinks the renowned softly-softly approach of their international flight attendants is a perfect fit for the shrines. The program sees furloughed flight attendants or those working reduced hours trained up to become shrine maidens.
Eleven years ago, when Japan Airlines filed for bankruptcy, it let go around 16,000 employees. It is not something the airline wants to repeat despite a very tough operating environment in 2020. Instead, Japan Airlines is actively encouraging many of its employees to seek temporary or casual work elsewhere until business rebounds.
Japan Airlines flight attendants train up as shrine maidens
In December, several cabin crew based in Fukuoka went through training at the Munakata Taisha shrine. They are taking on temporary work as miko, or shrine maidens. What’s a shrine maiden, I hear you ask? Good question. A shrine maiden is basically a supplementary priestess, akin to a deacon or acolyte.
These days, shrine maidens act as hostesses for the many visitors who come to visit shrines. They hand out amulets and talismans to visitors. Historically, shrine maidens danced and took part in spirit possession roles, but today the Japan Airlines shrine maidens will be kept busy making sure everyone is appropriately socially distanced. Visitor numbers to shrine in Japan peak over the New Year period.
“We think Japan Airlines’ first-class customer service may inspire all our staff at shrines,” CNN reported a Munakata Taisha shrine spokesperson saying.
“At the same time, we would like the Japan Airlines staff to experience the Japanese traditional culture and Japanese spirit and make the best use of what they learned for the future.”
While there are some obvious differences between working in a business class cabin at 37,000 feet and working in a shrine, there are also some similarities. Both roles have a strong focus on courtesy, customer service, and a certain way of doing things. Just as a Japan Airlines flight attendant pours tea in a certain way, amulets and talismans need to be handled and presented to shrine visitors in a certain way.
Japan Airlines looks to cut costs but avoid laying off employees
Japan Airlines is forecasting a loss of around US$2.6 billion in the year to March 31, 2021. But following the trauma of the mass layoffs a decade ago, the airline is extremely reluctant to repeat the process. Japan Airlines employs approximately 35,000 people. The airline is actively placing as many employees as they can in alternative temporary positions outside the company. Those roles include working in factories, call centers, and local governments. The shrine maiden positions are perhaps the more eye-catching temporary roles.
Recently, Japan Airlines has brought in some interesting ways to save money and cut waste. They are trialing an “ethical meal option” on the red-eye flight between Bangkok and Tokyo. Twenty four hours before flying, premium-cabin passengers can elect to skip the main meal and receive a better amenity kit in exchange. It’s a little thing, but it cuts waste from unwanted food and cuts costs for Japan Airlines. An average long-haul business class meal costs the airline US$33 to provide. Multiply that by the number of long-haul business class seats Japan Airlines usually offers each year, and you have a serious sum of money
The flight attendants selected to work at the Munakata Taisha shrine begin work there on New Year’s Day.
What are your thoughts about this switch? Let us know what you think in the comment section.