by Bill Warren
In 2002, my wife and I traveled with another couple on vacation to Australia, New Zealand and then to Tokyo, Japan. Although we met many wonderful travelers and locals, the following two acts of kindness in Japan truly stand out in our minds.
We had made reservations to stay in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese style hotel) in Old Tokyo (Asakusa). We had been assured the night manager spoke English and would be available until 11 p.m. so we could call him for directions from the Asakusa Train Station to the ryokan.
The language barrier made it difficult for the four of us to select the right train that would take us from the Narita Airport to Asakusa. Fortunately, because of an observant ticket agent, we were able to catch the last train out that night to our destination.
But because only two of us were in the ticket line, the agent misunderstood how many tickets we wanted and only sold us two instead of four. With what we thought were four tickets, we two men joined our wives and headed to the train platform.
After we had walked about 30 feet, the ticket agent realized we were two tickets short, left her counter and ran after us to take us back to the ticket counter to sell us the extra tickets.
Needless to say, we were ecstatic that the agent had been so thoughtful and observant. (Although perhaps this inconvenienced the people waiting in the long ticket line.) We still wonder today which two of us would have spent the night at the Tokyo airport!
When we stepped off the train in Asakusa it was raining and close to 10 p.m. I called the ryokan manager for directions but I couldn’t understand a word he said. I passed the phone around to my travel companions, but none were any better at communicating than I.
With looks of exasperation and hopelessness, all four of us just stood there by the phone with one big collective question mark hanging over our heads.
Then a young Japanese girl in her late teens stepped out of the train station crowd and in perfect English said, “I have time, I want to help.” I handed her the phone and she spoke a few minutes with the manager. After that, she not only explained to us how to get to the ryokan but walked with us down the street in the rain to the subway station. She showed us how to buy tickets and took us to the right gate.
We stumbled over our individual versions of “Domo Arigato” (“Thank you very much”). She smiled, bowed, and disappeared into the night. We made it to the ryokan with minutes to spare — thanks to her gracious kindness.