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Kindness from a stranger, Tokyo Japan, 11.03.1983

Japanese Yen

If you don’t speak the language in a country, it seems logical that if you talk slower and louder they will understand.

November 3rd, 1983, I landed at Narita Airport in Tokyo, Japan. I didn’t speak any Japanese. Sushi and origami were Japanese words, but they weren’t enough. My plane had been delayed and landed late. I didn’t know if the hotel had received my letter with my reservation. I couldn’t pay ahead with a credit card.  PayPal wouldn’t be invented for another fifteen years.

The room was about $12 US a night. 2,500 yen. My room was smaller than a king size bed. 2 tatami mats big.
From a letter to friends, dated December 25th, 1983.

There was no one at the airport to meet me. No friends to pick me up and take me back to their apartment.

At the money exchange at the airport I exchanged a travelers’ check for Japanese Yen and looked for a pay phone. The payphones were all lined up against the wall. They were all being used. I waited and then dialed the number for the hotel. They answered and said something in Japanese.

“This is Pamela Fernuik. My plane was late. I am coming, please save my room.”

They said something back to me.

Maybe if I spoke slower and louder they would understand.

T  h i s  i s  P a m e l a  F e r n u i k.  M y  p l a n e   w a s  l a t e. I  a m  c om i n g,  p l e a s e   s a v e   m y   r o o m.”

We did this back and forth for 83 million years, my voice getting louder and slower, sweating in my winter coat, feeling the tears forming behind my eyes. My face to the wall, my back to the herd of Japanese people and travelers walking behind me.

” T h is  is  P a m e l a  F e r n u i k.  M y  p l a n e   w a s  l a t e. I  a m  c om i n g,  p l e a s e   s a v e   m y   r o o m.”

I turned away from the pay phone as I was talking, tears coming out of my eyes. A Japanese businessman walking  past me, head down in a hurry, heard me and saw my face. He walked over and said, in English.

“May I help you?” Or maybe he said,”Do you need help.” All I remember is he offered help and he spoke English.

“Yes, please. My plane was late and I want them to save my room for me. They don’t speak English.”

He took the phone out of my hand, faced the wall and talked rapidly in Japanese. He hung up and said, “Your room is saved. How will you get to the hotel?

“The train.”

He pointed  towards the train station at the end of the hall. The closest train station to the hotel was Takadanobaba. The signs on the train station were only in Japanese. The guide-book printed the name of the station in Japanese characters. I kept looking up at the board over the door and counted the number of stops until my station. Years later, the signs on the train were printed in Japanese and English.

People on the train tried to talk to me in English.


“Canada. Takadanobaba.”

An elderly Japanese lady stood up at my stop,  pointed to the sign and nodded her head.

The Japanese people were kind to me. I wanted to stay.

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.

Henry James (1843-1916) Author

I have never forgotten the kindness of the Japanese business man on my first day in Japan. If I had his address I would write him a letter and say thank you again.

Was a stranger kind to you when you were traveling? Please tell me in the comments. I would love to know about your adventures.



About Pamela Hodges

My name is Pamela Hodges. I am a writer and an artist. I write to encourage and to bring laughter. I paint cats, draw cartoons and write books for children and grown ups.

You are an artist. Yes, you are. Really.

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Get the FREE illustrated, sort of a comic book, “You Are An Artist.” Believe in yourself and your ability to draw. xo Pamela

  • Such a wonderful story! One time that I recall was when my husband was in a Houston hospital for chemo. I wasn’t traveling for pleasure, but on my way home, I had car trouble. It was on a Sunday and in those days there were no cell phones and businesses closed on Sundays. I walked to a pay phone in an attempt to find a towing service. A man and woman just happened by in a tow truck and they had a friend nearby who was a mechanic. They towed my husband’s pick-up and took me back to the hospital (probably 20 miles away). I called my boss and told her I couldn’t make it back to work on Monday, so I ended up staying with John until he was discharged three days later. (Fortunately I could stay in his room at night.) The mechanic’s wife had agreed to come to the hospital and pick us up, but the day before a person who worked for them had taken the pick-up for a test drive and forgot to latch the hood. Naturally, the wind caught it and bent it. They put it in a body shop, but the repairs weren’t finished before we were ready to come home. (A four hour trip from Houston.) The offered to pay for us to stay the night in a hotel, but John was still sick from the chemo and also homesick. They allowed us to drive their car home and came to our house the next day to return our vehicle. They didn’t charge us a dime to fix the original problem. Truly they were good Samaritans.

  • Michelle Crooker

    The kids and I were in Colonial Williamsburg a number of years back (so long ago that it was just two kids, rather than the 3 we have now). We had been enjoying the day with my sister and her kids and having a lovely time. My sister and her kids had left and headed home when my two and myself went to take a carriage ride.
    The carriage ride was lots of fun and we were just about to leave when we saw the stocks. I wanted a picture of the kids in the stocks.
    My little girl couldn’t stand tall enough to get her head into the stocks, so my oldest son picked her up. I took the picture, but as he was lowering her down she slipped. At this point my sweet little baby girl (about 2 1/2 – 3 years old) had a bad cut on her bottom lip that was bleeding profusely.
    With my son (7, almost 8 years old) pushing the stroller we found an attendant and they called the Williamsburg Police who came over and planned to take us to the local urgent care.
    As we are trying to prepare to leave I am faced with trying to figure out how to unload and fold up the stroller and get it into the police car, all while holding my sobbing and bleeding child and trying to keep an eye on her brother who was distraught about all that was happening.
    Out of nowhere a lady walks up – a mom, as she had kids with her – she asked what I needed, then figuring it out, unloaded the stroller, folded it up and put it in the police car.
    I have always known that God sent her – He could have had the police officer help, or allowed me to work it out, but He knew exactly what we needed. We needed a mom who knew how to recognize a need, unload a stroller and fold it up!

  • Janelle

    What a great story. I love hearing about your travels and adventures. I’ve had several kind strangers in my life. Once, when on a car trip with our young family, our car broke down in Alberta in the middle of nowhere. A young man stopped, took the boys and I into a little town, and then helped Lyndon arrange for our vehicle to be towed to a garage. The funny thing was that in our conversation, we discovered his mother was mayor of the little Saskatchewan town we lived in at the time.

  • Winnie Moyer

    I do not speak Chinese..only a few common phrases. Trips on the local bus are ALWAYS an adventure, there are MANY university students close to where I live and they speak broken english, they can usually help me and can tell when I am lost. One night I was traveling home by bus (a bus route I was not familiar with and will not take anymore) and I told the driver in Chinese “wait a moment” at my stop, but he did not stop 🙁 I was with friends (all american) and we walked back home a long way, it was an adventure I won’t forget, I do not ride the 32 bus route 🙂 Only the 39, it gets me where I need to go!! I have many stories of helpful people and fun adventures, I cannot wait to tell you ALL about them in December 🙂

    • Winnie,
      A bus ride in China does sound like an adventure. I look forward to hearing all of your stories.

  • La McCoy

    Lovely story.

  • Hola Pamela Hodges, this is me on a quick escape from NaNaLand. Yip, kindness, kindness, kindness.
    We were on our maiden voyage with Mojito, June 2009. Anchored at Allens Pensocola, a remote cay in northern Abaco’s Bahamas. That morning we tried to crank the generator to charge the batteries. And there was white smoke everywhere. Reading the manual we did not know what was wrong. Another yachtsman saw our struggle – by know we had tools unpacked the half the boat dismantled…he rowed over in his dinghy. ‘Hi, he said. Your impeller is broken, I’ll help you to fix it’ Well 2 hours later the job was done. That is kindness from a stranger.
    Mojito is dead in the water without power. He saved us.
    ps James was ready to sell the boat, before that guy came to help us. It will be several more years before James enjoyed sailing.

    • Patricia,
      Of all the places for a boat to be dead, “in the water,” sounds like a scary place. Yes, that yachtsman was really kind. I love your boat stories. You can write about a life that others only dream of.

      • Allens Pensocola was a scary place too. On the atlantic side there was flotsam, plastic, wood, dead fish, and other weird looking stuff, hanging from the trees and caught in the razor sharp rocks. We never went back there again.

  • When my husband was stationed in Germany we had an opportunity to drive to Switzerland with another couple. After getting out room we decided to go out to eat. Unfortunately we couldn’t remember the way back to our hotel. Mike stopped put on the dome light and opened a map. A man was driving by and saw us sitting there and he knocked on the window and said, “Where will you go?”

    Mike tried to talk to him in German but it did little good, we were new to the country. Finally Mike showed him our hotel keys and the man told us to follow him and he led us to our hotel. I’ve always wondered if perhaps he was an angel. It matters not. He was an angel to us.

    • Hello Anne,
      It sounds like you did meet an angel. His kindness was such a gift, and right back to the hotel!

  • Here is my answer: http://evapscott.com/kindness/

  • Pingback: Kindness of a Stranger at the Airport, Oklahoma City |()

  • I love this story. I’ve had lots of experiences like this, but I can’t remember the details the way you do. And because kindness has been shown to me, I always try to show it to other people when they are in distress.

  • Elsie

    I’m glad someone stepped up and helped the girl at the phone. What a difference it made to you! I try to help out if I notice someone lost or needing some kind of help.
    As to your reply to my comment, I don’t know if I am willing to take more risks now. I am comfortable with my life as it is. I think I would have loved to teach in a foreign land when I was younger, not now.

    • Elsie, you are the noticing kind. If I had to get lost again, I would want to get lost close to where you were riding your bike.
      A comfortable life is a good thing. You still have adventures. Your bike trips and travels you write about, sound adventurous to me.
      Maybe when all my children leave home I will go back to Japan to teach English for a year. The old lady with the gray braid returns after 40 years. Now that would be an adventure.