I’ve had some peculiar moments in Japan (as you have no doubt noticed already) and they have almost always come from the kindness of strangers. Now I’ve never really addressed why they are quite so kind before, but indeed there is a simple reason for it; more often than not, I travel alone.
I noticed as far back as on my trip around America with a good friend of mine, that a certain kind of person was simply more likely to attempt to engage you in conversation if you were by yourself. On some level you are simply more approachable. Also, the person about to randomly introduce his or herself might simply be more comfortable revealing their inner eccentric when in the presence of fewer people. Less potential embarrassment all round.
In Portland, my friend’s trip to the bathroom left me alone for the few minutes in which I struck up a conversation with the bartender as to why the fine brew I was currently quaffing was not available on Blighty’s fair shores (the answer is that production on the scale of Budweiser most often inevitably leads to an inferior product, therefore they were happy in Portland), the next thing I know the guy next to me was asking whether I fancied a tour of the very brewery I was stood in. Informing him that I’d have loved to, but alas, the tour closed two hours ago he quickly handed me his business card and replied, “no problem I’m a brewer here, let’s go.”
The friendly brewer then proceeded to lead my friend and I through every stage of the brewing process. Embarrassingly, I was so pleased with this I hugged the tiny brewer while we were stood in the hops fridge. As we reached the end of tour my friend and I wondered, how could this get any better?
“So here’s the beer lab.”
“and here’s your free six pack of unlabelled IPA.”
…oh dear Christ almighty…
So you see, I have much faith in the kindness of strangers, at least when said strangers have the opportunity to introduce themselves.
Japan certainly hasn’t let me down in this respect.
On my second trip to Shizuoka City to see a friend of mine, I found myself in need of a place to kill a few hours time and more importantly to get some grub in me. Not remembering the city all that well from my previous visit I attempted to wander in the direction of a hamburg restaurant I’d visited last time. Eventually, I tracked it down and found myself sat in a fairly empty slice of Germany, hamburg and spaghetti parked in front of me (some food combinations in Japan remain thoroughly beyond me). I was about half way through my meal when the only other customer, an elderly Japanese man started to talk at me. I say talk at me because I barely understood a single word of Japanese at the time, essentially any question asked of me that didn’t precisely match my text book was lost on me. But we persisted, each making efforts to bridge the gap, me with scraps of Japanese from my notebook, him through sheer bloody persistence.
One question he asked was fairly simple, ‘do you like cake?’ I nodded. The next thing I know a slice of cake appears in front of me, courtesy of the kind old man. I thanked him once and then again as he was leaving, at which point he asked me, ‘Do you like tea?’ Once again I answered in the affirmative, not expecting another slice of generosity. I hadn’t realized at this point just how prepared Japanese folk always are for gift giving. Sure enough, he reached into his backpack and pulled out a brick of green tea, handed it to me, smiled and was on his merry way.
It’s good tea too.
So a brick of green tea is what they call it these days? Duly noted.
You definitely have a point about being more approachable when alone. People regress into highschool behaviour; where one would only approach their crush when they were alone, which was never really.
This also reminds me of the strange character called “No Face” in Studio Ghibli’s excellent “Spirited Away”. Highly recommended viewing.
I wish I were as approachable as you Matt. I need to do something about my perma-scowl.
Well, it was brick shaped… seemed appropriate as descriptions go.
You know, I hadn’t thought of it in those terms but I think you’ve hit the nail on the head as to where the behaviour comes from. Fear of being embarrassed in front of a pack of wild animals aka high schoolers.
There are other stories of this ilk, but as you may remember, many of them involve copious quantities of sake and whisky… hence rather less appropriate for this blog.
Is ‘perma’ in reference to the permanent nature of your scowl or the nature of your hair these days?
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I like this post – traveling alone definitely makes you more approachable but it also speaks to a certain kind of character or person who inherently is more approachable. I bet someone could approach you in a big group and they would receive a decent response as opposed only when alone. Does that make sense?
Ahh, dreading work!