Oct 12, 2018

Stranger by the Day

Stranger by the Day photo

One day, it just dawned on me. I was becoming a stranger to myself.

I was walking on my way to my workplace and I was in a hurry just like most days and just like how most people in Tokyo are. You know those times when you want to soak up all the sun and walk as slowly as you can to remind you that you’re alive? I couldn’t do it on that day.  

But as I happened to pass by a bus stop, an old lady got off and fell flat on her face. I’m not one for theatrics but I’m pretty sure surprise was painted all over my face. What was more surprising though was not the fact that the old woman fell, but my reaction to it. I just stood there and paused for a couple of seconds mentally arguing whether or not to help out immediately.  I waited for others to help her out instead.

I’m not sure if this only happened to me or if you’ve had that dilemma before. I’m pretty sure that if that happened where I come from, which is the Philippines, I would jump right up to help an old woman, a kid or anyone, unless it’s a dog that is willing to bite me right then and there, without an ounce of hesitation.

And I got scared instead. I got scared that I might step on the social boundaries woven invisibly in Japanese society. It was weird and foreign and I just suddenly didn’t know myself at that point.  

The fact that I hesitated to do a good thing was very scary. I knew that it wasn’t in my nature to not help. There were other people around her who also slowed down a bit before finally helping her get up. Her glasses were shattered into pieces and while the other two Japanese helped her get up, I decided to come closer and take the umbrella that flew near her and gave it to the man who was already helping her sit down on a nearby bench.

To tell you honestly, I've never been so scared of old people in all my life than I ever did in Japan. I remember going to a public bath house during the first few months here. I was dumb enough not to know the local rules so I ended up getting my long hair in the water. Then, here comes this grandma who yelled at me in Japanese. I had no idea what it was all about but a couple of months later, I figured out the reason. So at this point, every time I go to a public bath house, I never not tip toe and take care about any social mistakes I might commit. It's a lot scarier than making a mistake in an examination, I tell you. I'm not even exaggerating. It gave me chills down my spine and that’s probably because I wasn’t used to getting shoutout at or that I didn’t expect to be shouted at for an honest mistake I’ve committed in a foreign land.

And when I try to assess the behavior I have shown when the old lady from the bus fell down, I realized that I am scared of getting shunned again for making a move. A move that might even help someone in a tough situation. I hated myself for it. I remembered all these news stories that have been coming out of the tube where people don't know what's going on with their neighbors. 


I admire the privacy that Japanese people give others. I believe that it's important to always consider others before taking an action. Japanese society has that and it has resulted in a very organized and harmonized place. However, it can also have its dark repercussions.

From that moment, I told myself that I'm going to try my best not to doubt myself, especially when it comes to helping others. That's how I was brought up and that's how I want to continue on living, be it in Japan or in another part of the world that I might be in, and I hope you feel the same way, too.

Stranger by the Day photo



Thrill-seeker. Normally crazy. Mediocrity bores me. Headset Killer. Thoughtless Discoverer. Never Ending Talker. Serious Joker. Jilai born in July.