jap 10&11: Nice People in a Nice City

Tokyo station is an interchange between 5 train lines. At non-peak hours, the crowd is confusing. At peak hours, the crowd is suffocating. At 10.30PM, I cannot tell whether it is still peak hours or not. And Tokyo station is not even the busiest interchange.

In the early evenings, an army of office-workers dressed in suits and ties surges towards stations around the city center. They arrive in waves, timed by the traffic lights of road junctions. It is an intimidating sight.

 

But this post isn’t all about the faceless mob, with all its brusqueness and its urgency. It is about people in the city, about individuals, about warmth and niceness and hospitality.

The church we went to for Pentecost Mass has a congregation of 365 people. The parish priest (who has a long strokable goatee) and deacon immediately noticed that we were new and foreign and came up to chat with us. The other parishioners later laughed warmly when I stood up to stutter an introduction of ourselves just before the final blessing. The choir was pretty awesome, despite being composed mostly of old ladies. The altar boys were noob and cute, and were often reprimanded by the over-controlling altar girls. The only youths around were dressed in Sunday best (i.e. suits and dresses) and did the offertory. And green tea was served after mass just outside the main church, where the parishioners – who were in no hurry to rush off from crammed parking lots – gathered to sit and chat.

It’s a place that I can honestly describe – without feeling cheesy – as brimming with love.

We also had dinners with Japanese people. The first night was with Jess’ HKU friends: Tatsu and Kenji. The second night, Tatsu invited two of his friends to join us: Dai and Kuni. The first night, Tatsu and Kenji sent us all the way back to the doorstep of our hostel. The second night, Tatsu, Dai and Kuni brought us to the top of Keio University to eat icecream and chat. Like how LoG suppers are at Village rooftop.

They were warm, authentic and hospitable; they made us feel welcomed and taken care of and comfortable in their presence (which is an amazing feat, considering me being me). Most of all, they were interested. They were interested in Singapore, it’s politics, it’s culture, it’s food and it’s people. They were interested in what we did the past few days in Japan, what we did for a living, what we did in our free time. They were interested in who we are.

  

I used to scoff at the way my parents tried so hard to be hospitable to guests. I thought hospitality was an old fashioned idea. I thought they did it just because they were worried about what their guests would say about them. I thought it was more vanity and more selfishness rather than neighborly love. But perhaps, I thought wrong.

Because hospitality is powerful. Anything that can turn a stranger into a friend is.

I asked Dai and Kuni whether they would describe themselves as normal Japanese people. It was a strange awkward question that made everyone laugh. I guess what I really wanted to find out was whether people in Japan were as nice as them, or whether the 4 of them were especially nice. But in the end, perhaps the answer didn’t matter so much. After all, it matters more to learn why one should be hospitable than to learn why one is hospitable.

Anyway, I didn’t do too well this sem. It quells a lot of the excitement over whatever power we’re supposed to receive at Pentecost. But, then again, I can’t help thinking that this Japan trip – with all its experiences, its insights, its relationships – more than make up for it. I know that’s not the way things work – both Pentecostal power and holidays – but it is consolation, anyhow.

Oh omg. We just felt a tremor. Kenji says it happens almost once a week in Tokyo. Nods. Japan holidays definitely makes up for bad grades.

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About Mel

I dreamt I was a whale. https://melvynfoo.wordpress.com/about-mel/