When you are really in need of help in Japan, ask an elderly lady. If she cannot help you herself she will find someone who can!
I resorted to this method more than once but one time in particular I remember very well. My Japanese is just good enough to get me in trouble. I can ask for directions but I don’t understand the answer. I was going from Nagoya out to Ise, a remote area with a national shrine and other tourist attractions. At the Nagoya station I was not sure I got the right instructions for the right train. I had in my mind the direction we might go but we seemed to be heading past. The train was crowded with commuters and people seem to deliberately ignore strange Americans. It was getting dark and starting to rain I was feeling disoriented. I could not get anyone to exchange a friendly glance to open a conversation. I spotted an old lady “obasan” or to be sweet “oba chan” chan being like miss young lady. I approached her several rows away, pointing at my map saying wa doko deska- where is it? In half a New York minute she had a group of helpers around translating and assuring me my stop was coming soon.
When I got to my stop it was raining like crazy. I was planning to walk about a mile to a temple/hostel. I was soaking wet real quick and spotting a cafe I dropped in. As I pulled of my pack and wet jacket the folks at the bar all turned around and stared like a seen out of an old cowboy movie. I sat down and ordered and they all resumed. I asked the waitress about my destination and again she summoned help. I ended up sitting for a long time with those folks and the temple sent a driver for me. I have found the most incredibly friendly people in Japan mostly by getting away from Tokyo and the big cities.
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