They’re Never Above Your Station

, , , , , | Hopeless | July 24, 2017

(This happens a week or two after I have just arrived to Japan for a student exchange program. I have yet to have my phone connected to the Internet at this point, so I have to rely on memory to get around. This, coupled with my liking to walk rather than go by transport, results in me getting lost a lot. This time I’m trying to walk home from university, but end up in a different part of the town altogether, and it’s getting late so I decide to just find the nearest subway station. Luckily, I at least speak some Japanese.)

Me: *walks into a convenience shop* “Excuse me, could you tell me what the nearest train station is and how to get there?”

Clerk: “Well, it’s a 20-minute walk from here and it’s a little complicated… Hey, [Coworker #1], there is a foreign customer asking how to get to the train station. Can you explain to her?”

(Coworker #1, an extremely nice middle-aged lady, calls Coworker #2, a young man, and together they try to explain the way to me in half-English, half-Japanese. Unfortunately, I am not yet familiar with local landmarks and find my Japanese vocabulary significantly lacking for words such as “highway” and “T-crossing”. Eventually they draw me crude map and, having thanked them, I walk out with it. They had even offered to walk part of the way with me, but that seemed like an obnoxious thing to accept, so I refused. As I am trying to follow the hand-drawn map, I hear footsteps behind me, and see a young man dressed like a typical office worker trying to catch up.)

Young Man: “Excuse me! I heard you talking to the clerk in that convenience store, and was wondering if I could help you find the way? Where do you want to get?”

Me: “[Neighbourhood where my dorm is], but I’m fine with just finding the train station.”

Young Man: “Well, if you keep walking like this, you’ll end up in Nara!” *a town over 20 miles away in the opposite direction from where I need to get*

(He then walks with me to the train station, making polite conversation as we go. I assume he just needs to go in the same direction anyway. As we get to the station:)

Young Man: “Do you know which station you have to get off at? I can look up on my phone.”

Me: “Oh, thank you, but I know. It’s [Station].”

Young Man: “Than you just need to board the next train from [Platform]. Here, use my train pass.”

Me: “Oh, no, thank you. I have the money.”

Young Man: “Are you sure? It’s [fare]. My pass is unlimited, so it’s okay if you use it. My company pays for it anyway.”

Me: “No, no, but thank you. Thank you very much.”

(As I head to the ticket gate, I see him waving and turning to walk off.)

Me: “Aren’t you going?”

Young Man: “Me? Oh, no. I actually live in an opposite direction; this isn’t even the station I have to board from. I just wanted to make sure you were all right!”

(Young man, thank you so much for helping me get home that night! This encounter meant so much to me back then, especially since I was in the middle of adapting to the new country!)

1 Thumbs
  • Flami

    That’s awesome! I would probably need (though not outright expect) that kind of help, too!

  • Adrian Mckeehan

    I’ve heard many stories of Japanese locals being very polite and courteous to foreign students and tourist.

    One in particular is after the earthquake in 2011 a bus full of tourist came off the bus to multiple locals apologizing for the earthquake.

    • Sonya

      I’m sorry but that’s the cutest and most polite thing I’ve ever heard of. Apologizing for a natural disaster? Also the most Canadian thing ever.

  • Jyazen

    Reading all the “Young Man” makes me want to break into the YMCA song. XD

    • Trihan

      Young man
      There’s no need to go home
      I said young man
      Because “me”‘s all alone
      I said young man
      Throwing OP a bone
      To not end, up, in, the, wrong town!

      • Ruttotohtori

        I want to give this more that just one upvote!

  • Ellen

    Not too long ago I saw an older lady asking another woman, who was on a bike going in the opposite direction, the way to the cemetary and instead of just pointing it out (it wasn’t a complicated route) she immediately got off her bike and told the lady “come, let’s walk to it together”. I thought that was so sweet.

  • Kitty

    Just for fun, I’ll imagine the young man to also have his tie tied around his head.

    • Darth Pseudonym

      Isn’t that the Japanese version of a lampshade on your head? i.e. indicating that he’s super-drunk?

      • Kitty

        Yeah. Also, a pack of takeaway sushi. Sometimes balanced on top of the head.

        • Darth Pseudonym

          This is increasingly sounding like a frat hazing ritual.

  • Sal

    Some folks and cultures are kind and considerate to others – this is Just A Polite And Nice Exemplary Special Example.

  • Broken Haiku

    I love how in Japan, especially the elder generation can be so very polite and helpful. I wish more countries still had a code of honour of this standard.

  • My parents told me a similar story from their trip to Japan. They were in the train station, slightly confused about how to get from there to their hotel, and someone stopped, figured out where they needed to be, and personally escorted them several blocks, right up to the front of the hotel, before wishing them well and heading back off in the direction they’d come from.

  • Sadie Buttons

    When I moved to London on a student work visa, I knew nothing. I didn’t even know how to put my card in the turnstile at the Tube station. This very cool young woman showed me how, asked where I was going, showed me the Tube map and how to use it. Then she got on with me, got off with me where I needed to go, even though she didn’t need to go there and pointed me in the right direction saying, “Stop in the first shop you see and buy an A to Z. I’ve lived here 10 years and I still use mine.” This was 1996 so no smart phones. I did just that and never got hopelessly lost. Moving to a new country can be hard, even if you speak the same language. People can be awesome.

  • Bashi

    One of the doctors I work with told me that this sort of helpfulness is extremely common in Japan. When he took his family there last year, they had all sorts of people willing to help show them the way. Even a lady with a tiny baby was willing to stop what she was doing to guide his family through a park.