Some days, the world seems dark and on a downward spiral, heading towards destruction. Some others, it all feels like a dream.
Most, however, are in-between.
Not that bad, but not that great either. I used to dislike those. I wondered, “Should I be happy that bad thing didn’t happen? Or should I be disappointed this didn’t turn out as well as I hoped?”
Yet, as I reflect on the five years I spent living in Japan, I remember awful days with bits of kindness that warmed my heart. I remember great days that got even better when I was touched. And I remember “average” days that turned magnificent for just a moment due to some actions from strangers.
These are only 6 of the many acts of kindness I lived in Japan but they were the ones that stuck with me most. I suppose they all happened at the right moment.
1. A Snack in a Train
Let’s start with the very last experience before I left Japan.
As I was sitting on the train on my way to meet a friend for the last time, I saw an old couple get in. The only seats left were on my left and right so I moved to let them sit together. This felt like something everybody would do.
They thought otherwise. They thanked me profusely as they sat and started talking to me.
“Thank you so much. Not many people are that kind nowadays. Have you ever had “Kyo Baum”? It’s a speciality from Kyoto.
When I replied that I didn’t think I had tried it, they opened a bag and gave me one. They had just come back from Kyoto. I was touched.
We then went on to talk for the rest of my trip and wished each other well. I had only done what felt right and they had reacted doing the same thing. This simple 10-minute interaction warmed my heart.
“It’s Not Takachi-ken”
I was once talking to my flatmate on the train about the Kōchi Prefecture as we were going back home. For some reason — maybe due to the amount of alcohol we had ingested — we both remembered it was written 高知県 but called it “Takachi-ken”. (“Ken” means “prefecture”.)
In Japanese, many characters have more than one pronunciation. In this case, 高 can be pronounced “Taka” or “Kō”. We were choosing the wrong one for the entire conversation until a young man shyly interrupted us to say it was pronounced “Kōchi-ken”. As we were two people in love with the Japanese language, we were happy to get a correction on it.
We thanked him and ended up talking until we got off the train. It then turned out he lived close to our flat. We exchanged contact and then went on to meet often at our regular bar in the area for the next two years.
“Here’s a Chimay for you”
Talking about our regular bar — well, izakaya — we went there at least twice a week back then. It was a small place where everybody talked to each other. The owner, who we called “Master”, was a lovely man constantly laughing.
Each year, Master organized an end-of-year party around Christmas time. The first time we joined that event, he came to my flatmate and me, and gave us two Chimay beers. These were not on the menu and he had just gone to buy them especially for us for this event.
We loved that place so we would have kept going there either way, but this small gesture touched us. My flatmate, as a Belgian person, was particularly ecstatic to have his first Chimay in a while.
“How Have You Been?”
I’m a man of habits and one of them, during my time in Japan, was to go to a certain coffee shop for breakfast and to write before work. For almost two years, I went there at least 3 times a week, most often 5, and usually spent an entire day there during the weekend.
I never talked to anybody. Just the common greetings to the owner and employees. Most times, I didn’t even need to order anything as they knew what I wanted.
During that period, I once spent almost 2 months back in France. The first thing I did when I went back to Japan was to stop for a coffee. When the owner saw me, he stopped his tasks and came to talk to me.
It’s been a long time. How have you been? Had you gone back to your home country?
This was the first time we talked and that exchange warmed my heart. A year later, when I told him I was leaving Japan, he wished me safe and well, thanking me for having been such a good customer all this time.
“We can see Fuji-san”
I’ve talked about this before, but I can still remember how thankful I was when this happened.
One day, as I was going back home from the coffee shop I just mentioned, an old lady appeared out of nowhere next to me and said,
We can see Fuji-san.
Despite having lived in that area for over a year, I didn’t know there was a spot on the hill behind my apartment where we could see Mount Fuji (called Fuji-san in Japanese).
I love that mountain so I was very thankful to that lady. She didn’t have to tell me. She didn’t even know whether I could understand Japanese. Yet she felt the need to share her experience with me. I was touched once again.
“It’s on me”
As I traveled the Kyushu area on my own, I arrived one evening in Saga. I wanted to have a drink and found a standing bar close to my hotel so I went there.
As the only white guy in a room full of local Japanese, I stood out. But as a shy person, I couldn’t really engage in any conversation. All I did was asking one man if they ate edamame with mayonnaise in Saga because the waitress had asked me if I wanted some as she gave me my edamame.
The man laughed and said it was for the chicken I had ordered (and completely forgotten about). We then went on to talk about life in Saga as a local and life in Tokyo as a foreigner. An hour later, he had to leave and left 5,000 JPY to pay for whatever I wanted to have next.
I tried to refuse but he knew the waitress and told her to serve me using these 5,000 JPY. I remember looking back at that time later in the evening.
How can receiving kindness feel so good? I need to share this.
Since that night, I’ve doubled down on trying to be as kind as I can to others. I decided I shouldn’t be the only one receiving kindness. If I could share kindness, it could spread even more.
Acts of kindness are highly underrated. They are tiny experiences that compound and warm other people’s hearts. They make everybody’s day a tad brighter. And most often, they go unnoticed.
Nobody avoids being kind, but most people don’t try to be kind. I believe that’s not the way to go at it. We should also strive to find ways to be kind to others. There are at least as many ways to be kind as there are people on this planet.
Say something nice. Give or share something the other person could like. Help people in need. Just don’t wait for something in return. The act of making someone’s day brighter should be enough.
Do it often enough and you’ll even get to feel the warmth of your own kindness.
And, who knows, you might even get a snack for it!