We were left stranded in the middle of the crowded and bustling streets of Shinjuku, with the businessmen and women dressed in black suits passing by us in a frenzy manner to be back home. Without any knowledge in the Japanese language other than your basic elementary conversational phrases, like “arigatou” (thank you) or “sumimasen” (excuse me), we had to use our best instincts to find our way to Shibuya, a destination that was thirty minutes away. It was only five o’clock in the afternoon but all of our phones had died, and so did our portable batteries. Our best bet was to speak to a native with the minimal amount of Japanese phrases we knew and a ton of hand gestures.
With precaution, only because we are from New York City and we lack the stereotype of being friendly to strangers, we approached a young Japanese boy who seemed to be on his way home from high school. We started the conversation off with “sumimasen” and said “Shibuya.” With an immediate understanding of what we were trying to ask him, he pointed at a direction and in Japanese told us “that way,” or at least that’s what I assumed. As we made our way in the direction he told us to head toward, we noticed that the lights were getting dimmer and the crowd was getting smaller, which was rather strange because Shibuya is an area equivalent to Times Square, the biggest part of the city that is always bright and lively. So, understanding that we were sent in the wrong direction, we made our way back to our original starting point.
To our biggest surprise, we saw the same boy standing at the corner of the sidewalk, looking as if he was purposely waiting for us; and I only say this because he apologized for sending us in the wrong direction and decided to personally walk us to the Shibuya crossing. This was completely out of the ordinary for us, as the people of New York City barely look in your direction when you ask a question. We wondered whether his home was in Shibuya or if Japanese people in general were nice enough to walk three foreigners for thirty minutes. Throughout our trip in Japan, we realized that it is indeed a cultural characteristic among the Japanese people to help others out as much as they can, though I can’t say that it is a characteristic for all of them. All I can say is that the general public, like the young boy, is nice enough to take time out of their lives and help you despite the language barrier.
Once we reached Shibuya crossing, the boy shyly bowed his head and quickly made his way back to where we came from, which convinced us of the fact that he did it out of pure kindness. This is just one of many examples of the Japanese culture and how respectful their citizens are, even to the foreigners who do not speak Japanese. We can only imagine where we would have ended up if the boy had ignored us instead.