Between the two of us we’ve been to 36 countries. OK, not a huge number, but enough to see a clear winner among those countries for our award for “the most helpful people in the world for travelers”. The winner is…Japan!
We came to Japan to see gardens and temples, to explore narrow lanes, and to window shop on busy urban streets. The photos show that we saw all of those things. What we did not know when we planned our trip was that one of the best reasons to visit Japan is its kind and helpful people. When we stepped off the plane at Narita Airport and literally walked past an escalator for the baggage pickup, an airport employee raced after us and motioned the correct way to proceed. From that moment on, everyone has been welcoming, friendly, and helpful. It has continued since – many times – with help from kind-hearted strangers.
A week after our arrival, we found ourselves in the Yotsuya metro station in Tokyo enroute to Kyoto. We had searched online the night before, trying to understand how to get from the metro to the train station, but we still had a lot of questions. Sure enough, our first ticket machine totally baffled us as the script was in Japanese (of course). Also, did we want the red or the blue ticket machine?
A very nice stranger, Tomoko, offered to assist us in purchasing the Metro tickets to the Tokyo station in center city. Then she navigated us over to the regional train station, helped us buy our reserved tickets on the next train, asked directions to get us to the correct platform, and escorted us right up to our train car. We were so grateful for her kind assistance. There is no way we could have done this without her help! We thanked her and gave her our card.
Later that day, after arriving in Kyoto, we received an email from her introducing herself and saying “If anything does happen, please feel free to make contact with me. I can explain something in Japanese by telephone, instead of you. My mobile phone number is …..” Helpful people, like Tomoko, are very special. She turned what might have been a difficult day of traveling into a memorable and rewarding experience. When we look back on our time in Tokyo, Tomoko’s studying the schedules and guidance through the train station will be our best memory.
We think the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo is a great choice, and the Japanese people will be gracious and helpful hosts.