Connecting with strangers

A memory from my October 2022 trip to Japan — first time back in 15 years!

Cowabunga! I had forgotten how fast the bullet train travels …

Heading south toward Kyoto, Japan (Oct. 16, 2022)

Nearly everyone is masked here, and we are asked to not speak loudly, so it’s quiet on the train.

Yet, about 10 minutes before her stop in Kyoto, the 60-some-year-old woman next to me struck up a conversation. Learning I was en route to see my high school-era host parents, she asked me to greet them for her and gave me a pack of smoked eggs. The eggs are a speciality of Odawara, the city where we had boarded. Enjoy them with your host parents, she said.

A plastic pack of smoked eggs, labeled in Japanese, sitting on a bullet train tray
A gift of smoked eggs, on a bullet train tray

Her name is Yukari, and she’s in beautiful Kyoto not to see the sights but to spend time with her ailing uncle. If you’re inspired, send up a little prayer for him.

The city of Kyoto through the bullet train window, a pagoda rises among office and residential buildings
Arriving in Kyoto, via shinkansen (bullet train)

Yesterday, jet-lagged and struggling with farsightedness, I misread a map. I was LOST and tired.

A young woman was walking toward me, so I asked her if I was heading in the right direction. She assured me I was not far off and proceeded to walk me a half hour or so back the way I’d come and beyond, all the while assuring me that she was heading in that direction anyway.

Along the way she told me that she loves bouldering, showed me a photo of her pet tortoise and shared that she is expecting her first child in March—laughing that she *thinks* it’s a child and not some other animal, but who knows? She insisted the exercise we were getting was good for her.

Yes, we’re all masked, yes, we’re fumbling quietly with two languages. But this is part of why I love Japan: for the kind connections people make, even with a stranger.

A city scene from above -- tall buildings, parking lots and a train running through -- and low mountains in the distance
View from my hotel in Atsugi-shi, Kanagawa-ken (October 15, 2022)

Background: I hadn’t planned to visit Japan in October 2022 … but when we learned the country would open its borders to regular tourists just days before the Japan Writers Conference, my husband encouraged me to shift gears. I was scheduled to present about memoir writing, and wouldn’t it be better to present in person, rather than over Zoom?

Yes, it would.

A couple of weeks later, I stepped off an airplane in Tokyo. It had been fifteen years since my previous visit, twenty-six years since I’d called Japan home.

More posts to come


A memoir of Japan

Sometimes you have to run far, far away to find your way home.

One thought on “Connecting with strangers

  1. I love how Japan is catered to introverts, from their ‘keep quiet’ signs in trains to the cubicled restaurants. I also miss connecting with strangers on travels, and you’ve taken me down a stroll down my own Memory Lane. Loved this post!

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