Our son was studying in Japan, so we made the most of the opportunity, planned a trip to go visit him and to see a bit of the country. I was cautioned that the people might be shy and make no effort to engage us or help us, especially the older Japanese. Upon our arrival, our own son told us that we could not expect their assistance. His take on it was that they did not like gaijin, or foreigners.
We got a few stares here and there, but of course with a husband who is 6ft. 7in tall, who wouldn’t take a longer look?
He gets similar attention stateside with earshot comments about his height.
Occasionally on the Japanese railway or subway someone would shift their position away from us as another seat became available, but, we found for the most part, the people were very helpful AND the ones that were most cordial were those mature in age. Even so, a few young people were also accommodating.
Our time in Japan contains story after story of their kindness toward us, but I will share just a few here.
We had checked and double checked the train route to Kamakura and were on our way. Suddenly at one of the stops the conductor was standing in front of us asking a question in Japanese. My answer was “Kamakura”, even though I didn’t really understand the question. In broken English, he says, “You have to get off!” We looked at him and each other very confused with the question, “What?” just under our breath. He says again, “Get off, go to other platform, (to which he pointed) get on that train, (holds up two fingers) two stops!”. Apparently we needed to change trains. We had not seen that particular detail on any information, but we were extremely grateful for his help.
In the town of Inuyama we asked for directions to the museum. The man at the information center told us which bus we needed and the fee for the ride. We headed out of the station to locate Bus No. 2. Nearly to the bottom of a long flight of stairs, we heard footsteps running behind us. Turning, we see the same man hurrying toward us. He had incorrectly told us to pay when getting on the bus and wanted to correct his error. We were to pay as we got off.
How kind was that?
One of my favorite moments took place on a crowded bus in Nagoya. We had entered the doors in the middle of the bus and found the bus so crowded that we stood on the steps of the door way. A stop or two later as the passengers disembarked and shifted seats, I catch the eye of an older woman. She looks at me, smiles and pats the open seat beside her. I place my hand on my chest gesturing the silent question, “Me?” She smiles and bows her head. Without a word to my husband or son, I make my way to the offered seat. As I took the seat, she bowed and smiled again. I gave her a slight bow back and a quiet “Arigato (thank you)”.
Kindness shown. Kindness received. Japanese citizen and gaijin (foreigner). Simple, but understood communication.
There are too many examples of this kind of hospitality to recount here, but I want to share one more.
Our trip was coming to a close and the Nagoya train station was our first stop in our travels home. We’d purchased our tickets for the semi-express train to the airport, checking twice to see if we were headed to the correct platform. Several trains came and went as we waited for ours. Then a man from across the tracks calls out to us (in English), asking if we are going to the airport. I confirm. He says, “You need to be over here for the express.”
We were so confused!!!
Dan ran off to ask one more time. He was told for the third time that we were fine where we were waiting and there was just 6 minutes until our train came. Still, we debated what to do. I looked and my husband and said, “Too many things have happened where we have been helped along our way. I want to believe that man across the tracks.” Dan agreed, but now what do we do? Our time is short and we would have to go up a flight of stairs, figure out how to get to the correct platform and make our way down another set of stairs. Suddenly, I birth a crazy idea and ask Dan if he wanted to go through the next train. The next train comes, both sides open, everyone disembarks and we rush through, hoping not to get slammed by the closing doors. Bear in mind we are each toting 2 suitcases and our carry-ons.
The man on the other side comes quickly and grabs one of my bags. He says, “We will go together.” We chatted with him as we waited the last couple of minutes there. We laughed about going through the train, to which he just shook his head and said, “Very dangerous!” Our train comes and the doors only open on one side this time…….the side we were on.
We were very thankful to all those who showed kindness to the gaijin. They welcomed us to and helped us through their country.
There is no limit on kindness.
There is no place on that earth that couldn’t use a little benevolence.
There is no not a cap on the number of people who need a little help along the way.
Here’s the beautiful thing…you and I can choose to be kind in our own home or across the globe.
Want to make a difference in your world today?
Give a little help along the way…offer kindness. Not only will your world be a better place, but you will also feel better.