Arigatou Gozaimasu: On Japan’s Polite & Helpful Culture

In a country where English is not the norm, Japan is surprisingly very foreigner-friendly.

I survived 11 days in Japan using literally no more than two Japanese words: sumimasen (“excuse me” cum “sorry”) at the beginning of every conversation and arigatou (“thank you”) to close it. (Though fortunately, my travel companion understands a few basic Japanese phrases to fill in the blanks when the language barrier is just too strong.)

Seriously, no other country which I’ve visited have a higher ratio of gracious and helpful people. Whenever we ran into troubles, the Japanese would always come to save the day.

  • To the delivery man we met on our first day of arrival after 30 minutes of getting lost in Shinjuku; who was kind enough to point us the direction to our hotel, accidentally gave us the wrong one, but upon realizing his little blunder took all the trouble to walk through the wrong road to re-find us and make sure we reach our hotel, arigatou gozaimasu.
  • To the lady we met during one cold Tuesday morning at Kawaguchiko Station bus stop; who was clearly shivering but felt obligated to guide us on non-tourist bus’ direction to Ubuyagasaki because we desperately wanted to see Mount Fuji (we were informed that first tourist bus only operated at 9 am but unfortunately we had to leave for Hakone before that), arigatou gozaimasu.
  • To the bus driver we met at a small village at Oshino; who told us that he’s heading towards the opposite direction, but asked us to board anyway and made a deliberate (and possibly non-authorized) stop at a junction where we could catch another bus towards our intended destination, arigatou gozaimasu.
  • To the two grandmothers we met at Hakone Tozan Railway; who spoke zero English but were impressed with our bravery to backpack across distant regions and wanted to make sure we boarded the right train towards Kyoto, arigatou gozaimasu.
  • To the old man we met on our way to Kansai International Airport; who we never asked help from, but approached us voluntarily to let us know that we’ve boarded a slower train and needed to change train so that we won’t miss our return flight, arigatou gozaimasu.

There are many more of such cases, but that’d take our whole day to go through.

There are many talks of Japan being a xenophobic nation in disguise and/or that it’s a two-faced society where the politeness quickly disappeared when things become anonymous and they no longer have to worry about “losing face”.

I don’t know whether there’s any truth to that. But hey, even if it’s true, is that really a bad thing? Most humans are selfish in nature, but what’s commendable is the ability to put that aside for the greater good. As far as I’m concerned, I couldn’t be any less grateful when someone selflessly help others who are having difficulties, regardless whether or not they are secretly reluctant because they have a million other sh*t of their own to worry about.

Thank you again for everyone who helped during our stay in Japan. Arigatou gozaimasu.

Do you enjoy Japan’s hospitality or do you find it artificial? Which country has impressed you the most with amazing helpfulness?


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