Your Travel Stories:

Spirited Away in Japan

Written by:

Nicole Sereno

Tokyo, 2016

My first big trip outside of the United States was to Tokyo, Japan in 2016. I had this grand expectation that Japan was going to fulfill all my nerdy desires and it didn’t disappoint. I spent all of my money in the arcades of Akhibara, ate my way thru Shinjuku and emptied out my wishes in the temples of Ueno.

But as surreal and exciting Tokyo was, it was still just a regular city much like New York. I saw parents drop their kids off at school, students playing hooky in arcade bars, and salarymen rushing to catch their trains. I was nevertheless impressed by how everyone knew exactly where they needed to be in the city’s sea of chaos. Now let’s fast forward to me. It was 8:30 pm and we were at a train station what we thought would lead us back to our home-base, Asakusa. Japan’s railway system is notorious for being on time, so when the third train zoomed past, we started to worry.

“Is THIS my train?”

This was when my travel companion, Matt, and I decided to split up.

He went to look for a train map while I kept an eye on the digital signs in case the schedule changed. This was when I realized I was being watched. After what felt like an eternity, this stranger finally makes his way towards me. By the time Matt got back, I had somehow managed to explain to the stranger that we were lost. Communicating via frantic body-language and broken Japanese, we finally decided to follow him.

In any other circumstance, this would be a terrible idea. Our phones were dead (which is why Google Maps was out of the question), we had no idea where we were, and we had no idea why we agreed to follow this man in the first place. But hear me out, Japan is one of the safest nations on earth and I was also confident I could outrun a middle-aged man. So, the three of us jumped on the next train, got out 15 minutes later, and walked into the darkest alleyway known to man. Before actual panic set in, he led us out of the darkness. We found ourselves in a lantern-lit, narrow alleyway with windows on each side giving us glimpses of each local’s life as we passed by. At the end of all this, his wife, who was the embodiment of a Japanese Mrs. Clause, was waiting for us. Much to our delight, she spoke English!

A quick snap of two women on the train

The rest of the night felt surreal.

The old guy (Aki) turned out to be not a murderer but was only concerned at the sight of me being alone on the platform. His wife (Meiko) in turn, cooked us the most wonderful ramen I have ever tasted in my life. She then taught me how to brew the best green-tea the way her okaasan did, after fawning over my drink. We have no children so I’m glad I can pass this down to you, I remember her telling me and I nearly cried.

Aki told us that he was a social worker who volunteered after hours to help troubled teens. No wonder he recognized my troubled face from across the platform. Meiko in turn, taught at an international school where she has been a teacher for 23 years. They both cooed and teased each other and their warmth towards one another was addicting. The four of us sat and laughed and shared stories in their cozy, ceramic-filled table for hours. As Aki finished his 4th cup of sake, the couple packed us a bento for the train before walking us back to the station.

A few photos from my wanderings through Japan

It was not even 3 hours

from the moment we met, but we felt like we knew the kindly couple for an eternity. As we said goodbye and boarded our Asakusa bound train, it felt like leaving our parents. Aki made drunk faces at me from the window while Meiko waved. Even as the train sped away I could still see them waving in the distance.

If I had let my paranoia get the best of me, I would not have had met and experienced the best part of our trip to Japan. Obviously, don’t just follow any stranger you meet, but be sure to be open-minded when you travel. This memory became the driving force for every, “Yes!” I have said on my trips thereafter. (Also, I have yet to find Aki and Meiko in facebook that I often wonder if they were real.)

If you ever find yourself lost in Japan, I sincerely hope you’ll also get Spirited Away by your own version of these two magical people.

Nicole Sereno

Nikki is currently trying to fulfill her bucket list of visiting all of Southeast Asia before she’s 30. Her next goal is to visit every National Park via a converted school bus while petting every single cat along the way.

What’d you think of Nikki’s story?

Reading this story about Aki and Meiko’s kindness reminds me of a similar couple I met in Charleston, South Carolina. It just goes to show you that there are kind-hearted people everywhere, regardless of different cultures and geography. Do you have a similar story? Fill out the form below to share your story like Nikki!

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