A Lesson In Japan On Being Kind To Strangers

I look back and forth between the map in my hand and the sign on the bus stop. I don’t why, the latter’s in Japanese and I have not a hope in hell of reading it.

I’d made grand plans to explore at least 5 attractions during my one full day in Wakayama yet had managed to get myself thoroughly lost at my very first stop. I’d caught the train from the city to Kimiidera first thing and that had been a breeze. Good old Google Maps has all the info you need to get to Kimii-dera Temple from Wakayama City, down to what platform your train leaves from and how much the ticket costs.

Early blooming blossom at Kimii-Dera Temple
Early blooming blossom at Kimii-Dera Temple

Google is not any help when it comes to buses though. Knowing this might be a problem I’d stopped at the information desk at the train station to ask what buses I could take to continue my journey from Kimiidera. The lady was very helpful and jotted down on my map what bus routes I could catch. I just hadn’t fully understood the bit where she’d told me where I could get on said buses. After 20 minutes of directionless wandering around Kimiidera I’d come across just 1 bus stop with one lone lady standing next to it.

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Most of the lady’s face was covered by one of those germ masks you see often on commuters in Japan. She was concentrating, noting something down in pencil, and I wasn’t even sure if she’d registered me behind her. Mercifully she turned around and asked without prompting,

“Can I help you?”

Could she ever! I explained my problem and when the lady realised the bus I wanted wasn’t leaving from the stop we were standing at she said,

“I have time. I’ll take you.”

I don’t think I’ve heard someone say they have time in years.

Young girls walking themselves to school in Tokyo
Young girls walking themselves to school in Tokyo

I think of all the times I’ve been asked for directions in Sydney (apparently I have one of those faces – whatever that means!). In some cases I did not even slow the pace of my walk to give them their answer. I (cringing now) think of the times I barely raised an arm, telling some poor lost soul that they need to go ‘left a bit, right and bit and then they should see it’ before marching on with whatever non-urgent task I was dealing with.

My new-found friend in Japan not only walked me to my bus stop 10 minutes down the road but offered to wait with me too when she realised the next one was due in 15 minutes. She was (rightfully) worried that I would not be able to identify the bus I needed when it was approaching so, apologising for the cold wind and suggesting we move out of it, she stayed and chatted with me in rusty English.

We spoke a little about where we each were from. I learned she had been on her way to the movies before meeting me and that she’d spent 6 months studying in Canada but speaking mostly Japanese.

We said a lot of things that the other didn’t grasp fully. We had a big miscommunication about her grandmother who I thought had just died but apparently passed away years ago. Thankfully she laughed at my awkward condolences.

I didn’t catch this stranger’s name, it didn’t seem necessary, but we spoke about what had bought me to Wakayama and she asked for my web address.

So maybe one day she will read this and know that her kindness stayed with me. Maybe she’ll know that she not only saved me that day in Wakayama but has potentially saved lots of lost tourists in Sydney through the new, more helpful me.

About the author

I’m Jayne, a travel blogger, content creator and mum to a 4-year-old son. I’ve been blogging since 2010, travelled to 65 countries and share travel guides and tips to help you plan stylish, stress-free trips.

17 thoughts on “A Lesson In Japan On Being Kind To Strangers”

  1. Oh I love this so much. I had many similar experiences when travelling there and now whenever I try to help lost tourists, I always think back to the kindness shown to me in Japan. It’s funny how some things just stay with you.

    • This really has. I popped into town shortly after hitting publish and was asked for directions. I didn’t know what she was looking for but rather than say I don’t know I stopped and we worked it out together. Felt good to pass that good karma on 😉

  2. How lovely, I would appreciate that so much too! I chickened out of visiting Japan solo last year because I felt like it might be harder to get around with such a solid language barrier, but this is reassuring.

    • Most of my recent trips to Japan have been on my own and time and time again locals have come to my rescue. If you have a wifi dongle google maps is a lifesaver in most situations. It’s just the buses you have to ask for help with. Def consider giving it a go!

  3. This is so lovely! Not quite the same thing, but when I was taken ill at Singapore airport (and subsequently not allowed back on the flight I was on from Melbourne to London) I met a man in the doctor’s waiting room who said that if I couldn’t afford the meds I was going to be subscribed that he would happily cover the bill for me. I could afford it, though, so it was fine. I never got his name, though, in all the confusion of maybe/maybe not being allowed back on the plane, and I wish I had because I would have loved to have thanked him properly. Encounters like this make me realise that, for the most part, everyone is kind and wants to help other people 🙂

    • That is a lovely story too. I read your post about it and it was so kind he offered to help despite not knowing the circumstances – it is reassuring to know people like that are out there. We so often hear the bad experiences that it’s nice to share the small acts of kindness.

  4. I love Japan and all the people. Their culture is quite different and fascinating. I love how kind and helpful they were. It’s not often that strangers take the time to help each other.


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