Learning trust over an apple slice
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: email@example.com. 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.