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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Stories From Japan: Lost Gaijin

I had two public talks a few weeks ago. One talk was about manners in Japan and another was on travel in Japan. Both brought up really interesting questions from the attendees. But one question really stuck out to me. "What do you do when your lost?" Now the logical and predictable thing to do is to ask for help, but most people either don't know Japanese to that extent or have no confidence in their Japanese to ask for help. Instead of answering with these replies I simply said "do the lost gaijin look."

Gaijin is a shortened version of the word gaikokujin which means foreigner. That is what Japanese people who aren't Japanese. So if you are a tourist in Japan like I am then you are also called gaijin. As gaijin, we have a lot of what I call "gaijin passes." Pretty much it's an invisible pass you can use at anytime in Japan when you don't know what to do. Yes, you may still get stares for going on the wrong side of the escalator or if you enter a neighborhood during quiet hours of the day (I've done that before, oops!) but you still have that gaijin pass that let's you get away with the manners you didn't bother educating yourself on.

Being a gaijin in Japan comes with pecks that actually matter though, and we are super lucky that Japanese people are so nice and always willing to help. Manners in Japan is key to how their society works as a whole. It's not about the how do I help myself, but how can I help others. So like I said before, there is no worry when it comes to getting lost in Japan because there will be a Japanese person ready to come to your rescue.

Story time:

My husband and I made our way up to Nagano, Japan. We arrived a bit early so we couldn't check in to our ryokan. We decided to eat lunch and explore the city a bit. After we spent about 2 hours roaming the city, we went back to the station we arrived at and asked where we needed to board to get to our next destination which was outside the city of Nagano (we stayed at one of the ryokan in the onsen strip in Nagano prefecture). I train station attendant pointed to the subway station entrance, telling us that we would need to take the subway to get there.

We made our way down into the subway station and stood in front of the ticket machine. Practically just arriving in Japan and two years hazy on how to work the train and subway system, we were completely lost on how to purchase the right ticket for where we wanted to go. We had our "gaijin lost" look on our faces. I guess a Japanese business man noticed our discouraged expressions because he walked right up to us and asked if we needed help. His English was understandable, and better than my Japanese. We replied in English, telling him where we were trying to go. He went up to the ticket machine and pressed the buttons needed for two tickets. We gave him the money to put into the machine and got our tickets. We thought he was done with us, but we were mistaken. The gentleman proceeded to show us the platform we needed to wait on from the ticket entrance. We thanked him for his help and made our way through the platform entrance. He stayed there until he could no longer see us.
Riding through Nagano, Japan on the subway line.
That's what I'm talking about people! He was a busy man, trying to get someplace for himself but he stopped to help us. He was considerate and made sure we were going to get where we needed to go. So don't be afraid of getting lost in Japan. If anything, embrace it. You'll get help along the way and encounter new people. And it makes for a great story.

I hope you all enjoyed this segment of Stories From Japan. I really love this memory because of how genuine it is. Yes, not every encounter I have in Japan is a good one but the good ones out weigh the bad by miles.

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Thanks for reading. Until next time! じゃあーね!