Kindness of strangers on Tokyo Metro


Yesterday, two magical encounters occurred while riding the mid-day Tokyo Metro to the enormous corporation that is generously supporting my research.

Five stops into the ride, a diminutive older man engages me in conversation and then presents me with an unusual origami crane. By pulling on its paper tail, you can make its wings flap up and down. This energetic grey-haired sprite described himself as a “trouble-maker” who fights to preserve historic buildings, a type of activism Japan needs more of.

Well after he departed the train, the young woman on my other side began resting her sleepy head on my shoulder. A certain amount of proximity and even touching is common on trains, but I became alarmed when more and more of her weight pressed onto my suit jacket. I tried to alert her by saying “excuse me” and even gently touching the top of her head, with no reaction on her part.

I looked across the train, and could see that some passengers were sympathetic and others pretending to ignore the situation. Should I stand up and let her fall over? Should I try to rouse her? How could I wake her without touching her inappropriately?

All of a sudden, a man from the other side of the train came over and gave a hard slap to her shoulder furthest from me. She woke up, and stumbled out of the train without an acknowledgement or look towards me. I was very grateful for the slapper who resolved this uncomfortable situation.


  1. ^^ I just found out that for right now, I’m gonna be stopping in Tokyo on my way to Taipei. I’m super excited! I probably won’t be allowed to leave the airport, but Tokyo is Tokyo.

  2. This post made me laugh out loud, I would have loved to see that slap! I find a violent jerk of the shoulder often does the trick but have never seen passengers help fellow passengers out, it must have been a truly magical ride!

  3. Josette: You must be so excited. Please let me know if you have time to visit Tokyo (it’s more than 1 hour from Narita).

    We Fly: There is an elegance and kindness to living in Japan that does not exist in most places.

    GEG: I think your transit experiences are shaped by being stuck in “salary-man” rush hour. For me, Tokyo transit is almost always a treat: the visual splendor of outre fashion and the occasional kindness of strangers.

    Eric the fez: Your comment explains why you are the head of a successful American nonprofit, and not a diplomat or Japanese commuter. Inappropriate touching, especially male to female, can result in severe punishment.

  4. I remember those fancy-free days when riding on the Yamanote line was actually pleasant. These days I think I’m quite possibly turning into a salaryman myself…

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