Before moving here, I was told stories about how incredibly kind the Japanese people were. It was something I accepted as fact but did not truly experience for myself until arriving here and fully immersing myself. If there is one generalization I feel comfortable making about these people, it would be regarding this particular characteristic. It is quite unbelievable at times, and I end up in shock regarding the generosity and patience that a great majority of people have. For the most part, they are a very communal group of individuals and it is evident that others’ feelings are taken into consideration in most situations.
The first time I was really amazed by the kindness in Japan was when Brenna-chan and I went to Nagano. We decided to hop on the bullet train to see the snow monkeys during our second week, and didn’t really know what we were doing or where we were going. When we arrived at our final train stop, SURPRISE… I witnessed my first snow fall and it was magical!.. But also, my pocket wi-fi had no service and we no had idea how to get to our hostel. I had a screenshot of where it was supposed to be, but no real concept of where that was. We went to a convenience store in hope of getting some sort of help, but it wasn’t easy. The boy at the desk knew absolutely NO English and at this point the only thing we knew how to say in Japanese was “arigato" (thank you). I showed him my phone and he gave us a paper map of the city. He was able to circle where we wanted to go and where we currently were, but he seemed to be getting frustrated because he wasn’t able to assist us more effectively. He was relatively helpful, but there was nothing else that could have been done when communication was limited and google translate was unaccessible. We both left saying the only Japanese word we knew and simply hoped for the best as we set out into the crisp winter night.
At this point I had a paper map in one hand, and my little carry-on luggage in the other. The sun had hidden behind the mountains, and we were struggling to roll our bags through the freshly fallen snow. As it came down more intensely, the map became droopy in my frigid hands and it was increasingly difficult to figure out where we were in relation to our surroundings.
We continued on our way and eventually came across an adorable old man walking in our general direction. When he was close enough to speak with us, I assumed that he was asking where we were headed. In response, we showed him our floppy map with puzzled looks on our faces. He started talking and pointing down the street, but our blank stares probably made it clear that we had no idea what he was saying. Eventually, he took my map out of my hands and motioned for us to follow him with eagerness.
We continued up the hill for another 15 minutes while shivering and glancing in all directions. I was hoping to see another living being in the general area, but surprisingly enough, there was no one. There were moments when worry seemed to sweep over me, but there was something in my heart that told me to trust him. This adventure included awkward communication because it was primarily charades. It was confusing at times, but the man seemed to have honest intentions. We looked up and down this quaint mountain city as we followed, and tried to absorb as much of our surroundings as possible. I had never seen a town like this before and it was truly astounding.
For the most of our walk, we simply nodded and smiled awkwardly. It started to feel like we were walking for a long time and I was waiting for that Spongebob voice to say “three hours later.” I began to wonder where we were on the map when he stopped abruptly in his tracks. He pointed up at a sign that had “Nozaru Hostel” carved into a side plank and that was when we made the realization that WE MADE IT!
We were so utterly relieved to know that we had arrived at our destination and wouldn’t be outside sleeping with the snow monkeys (although that would’ve been a more interesting story). We were eager to let our bodies thaw, but were also in complete shock regarding what that man did for us. He stopped whatever he was about to do just to help some random foreigners who appeared to be lost. This was a genuine act of kindness that we were unable to repay him for. When we arrived, he seemed pleased to see our faces radiate happiness, and simply waved goodbye as he continued on his way. It was surprising to see that kindness is human nature in this country. Although at times, Japanese people are often SPRINTING down the street, or training to be an Olympic Speed Walker, more often than not, they will go out of their way to help someone in need. Since being in Japan, this isn’t the only time this has happened, simply the first. Every day I am left in awe, but none the less extremely grateful.