Every news report I have read since Friday morning has reminded me of when I was there. When I read that the trains in Tokyo shut down, stranding tens of thousands in the city overnight, I was stunned. I have ridden those trains. They are amazing. The people are polite, nobody minds sitting seat to seat, no one is loud or pushy. Everyone respects everyone else’s space. This respect extends to how clean the trains are. I sat across from two school boys once. One of them ate a granola bar or something similar, and let the wrapper fall to the floor. The other school boy nudged him and pointed to the wrapper. The first one bent and picked it up. Nothing was said.
The Japanese I met or just encountered were very respectful. Our hotel was located at the top of a beautiful glass building. We rode an elevator to the 21st floor where we crossed through an opulent lobby to a second elevator. From the moment we entered the lobby, people stopped. A man sweeping the floor stopped and bowed. A girl dusting the lobby, stopped and bowed until we passed. Then one young worker hurried to the elevator to the rooms to push the button so that it would be there before we arrived. He would offer to help us with anything we might be carrying. Now I assume they were instructed to do this, but they also represented the Japanese ethic of respect.
I loved how well-dressed they were in Tokyo. From groups of school girls in their pleated school skirts, to business men in their suits, to the girl in the elevator where we were taken to dinner one evening. From her pink pill box hat to her pink gloves she was adorable and smiled broadly as she grinned her greeting and farewell.
A business associate, Tosh took days off work to show us around, and even met us at the Narita airport so he could help us find the bus to Tokyo. He had gone out of his way (over an hour one direction just from downtown Tokyo) to be there for us and to help interpret if we needed it. After seeing us to our hotel, he rode the train to his own home. The next day he was in the lobby early to show us around. When Tosh realized I was more intrigued with museums and gardens than the shopping district, he rearranged his plans (we only realized this in hindsight) and took us to those type of destinations. I loved the school children in matching yellow and red caps that were visiting the Emperor’s gardens as a class. Every evening we were taken to wonderful restaurants by prospective business clients. Tosh had arranged everything.
One night we were taken to the top of a high rise following an authentic Japanese meal. There, on the observation floor, we could look out over the city. The lights of Tokyo stretched as far as we could see for 360º. It was massive beyond my comprehension.
When I read about the damage Japan is suffering following their earthquake and tsunami, I am not able to process the numbers and the totals.
I think of the people I knew or met. The school boys on the train, the school children in their caps, the girl in the elevator in her pink uniform, and Tosh. That is how most of us understand disaster: one person at a time. One story at a time.
We have sent Tosh emails, but there has been no reply. Tokyo may still be without power where he is. And perhaps people all around the world are sending emails, checking on the people they know.
Saturday morning p.s.: Tosh responded. He is fine. The people of Japan are injured, but resilient.