Learn­ing trust over an ap­ple slice

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - TOM JOHN­SON

Sus­pi­cion is a com­mon re­ac­tion to what we per­ceive as un­known. Although sus­pi­cion is nec­es­sary for keep­ing us dili­gent in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, it can be a bar­ri­cade to im­mers­ing in a new cul­ture when trav­el­ling. Eat­ing break­fast in Nagoya, Ja­pan, on the first day of a two-week trip, an el­derly lady ap­proached my friend and me with an of­fer­ing of ap­ple slices. My sus­pi­cion jumped in. Was she go­ing to charge us for th­ese ap­ple slices? Was there some­thing wrong with the ap­ples? Was there some other un­der­hand mo­tive for the of­fer?

Through a con­ver­sa­tion in bro­ken English, and some an­i­mated ges­tur­ing, I dis­cov­ered she grew the ap­ples in her or­chard at home and sim­ply wanted to wel­come us to Ja­pan. I was em­bar­rassed by my lack of trust. Yet this en­counter spurred me to adopt a new at­ti­tude of em­brac­ing faith and the trust shown in me by Ja­panese so­ci­ety.

This new at­ti­tude be­gan the very next day. I was doz­ing on the Shinkansen bul­let train from Nagoya to Tokyo when the man next to me tapped me on the shoul­der. In­stead of think­ing “What does he want?”, I thought: “Is there some­thing he wants for me?” He pointed to Mount Fuji, pass­ing by the op­po­site win­dow. I would not have seen this amaz­ing sight if it weren’t for the stranger, who then of­fered me a pack of pocket tis­sues as a gift. Once again, he was ea­ger to wel­come me to Ja­pan.

Per­haps one of the best things I did to pre­pare for Ja­pan was to not pre­pare at all. I knew em­bar­rass­ingly lit­tle about the coun­try be­fore the trip. How­ever, this en­abled me to ar­rive with an open mind and ea­ger to mould my be­hav­iour to re­flect the Ja­panese peo­ple.

I was able to im­merse my­self in a so­ci­ety where the virtues of hon­our and re­spect for your fel­low coun­try­man are para­mount. It is, in some but not all ways, the op­po­site of West­ern cul­ture, which prizes in­di­vid­ual achieve­ment by work­ing for your own per­sonal views, wants and needs, even if they are detri­men­tal to col­lec­tive so­ci­ety.

Each has its pos­i­tives, each has its neg­a­tives. But if it weren’t for the el­derly lady in Nagoya who made me re­think trust, I would have missed out on so much of Ja­pan with­out even re­al­is­ing it. And I wouldn’t have eaten some re­ally nice ap­ple slices. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@theaus­tralian.com.au. Columnists re­ceive a set of four Lonely Planet Make My Day guide­books for Lon­don, New York, Paris and Tokyo, of­fer­ing mix-and-match itin­er­ar­ies for morn­ing, af­ter­noon and evening. $99.96 ($24.99 each). More: lone­ly­planet.com.

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