There are many good things about being in Japan. Great local food culture. Many cool old temples to go explore. A pretty reasonable cost of living, even in my new life of spending the weekends in Tokyo. But my favorite thing about living in Japan is the Japanese people themselves. Their “default mode” is to be honest and hardworking, and will often be very kind to foreign visitors who find themselves in distress. It’s not impossible to find yourself the recipient of random acts of kindness in Japan.
I was recently browsing Reddit and came across a post about a tourist who came to Japan and lost his smartphone, which he’d been using to translate English to Japanese using an app. A random businesswoman helped the poster get to the train’s lost and found where he could see if his phone had been turned in, then she some other employees took him out for ramen and showed him around Osaka. The guy was floored that Japanese would be so kind to a total stranger. Others in the thread reported people going out of their way be helpful during their visits to Japan, including many cases of missing wallets being returned with all money inside. (This even happened in the middle of last year’s chaotic Halloween in Shibuya, and I recently found and returned a dropped wallet, too.)
I’ve experienced these random acts of kindness in Japan, too. While hitchhiking in northern Japan in April, I found myself stuck at a highway rest stop in freezing Akita Prefecture at 2 am, with few prospects to find another ride further north towards Aomori. A random middle-aged company employee took pity on me and offered to let me stay at his house for the night. I might have been concerned in another country, but this was Japan, and I took him up on his kind offer, borrowing a futon and crashing in his living room.
Of course, a lot of this kindness is sort of based on a visitor’s status as an okyakusan, a guest, who is to be afforded every consideration. It’s slightly different for a permanent resident like me (as it should be), and I’m given less leeway by those around me, expected to follow the rules more than a tourist might. When I arrived in Japan to teach ESL the parents of my students showered me with plates, coffee cups and other things for my apartment (re-gifting things they’d received as gifts, I eventually figured out), though this eventually faded somewhat because I was no longer an okyakusan but a resident.
If you do come for a visit and experience random acts of kindness in Japan, it’d be great if you could give a return gift to the person, which is called o-kaeshi. It would never be expected, of course, but if you were to bring some small inexpensive items that are representative of your home country in case you need gifts in an unexpected situation, it would certainly make a great impression on any Japanese you interact with here.
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