He looked homeless. His hair was unkempt and his eyes peered at us from behind his glasses, angled in such a way that identified him as a native. He was wearing a dark coat, of what it was difficult to say. He stood under the nighttime streetlamp and asked again in heavily accented English. “Are you lost? Do you need help?”
We were standing in front of a 7-Eleven after 8 p.m. Tokyo time. My husband was trying to figure out the route to a hotel we’d hoped wasn’t in a sketchy side of the city by using an offline map app on his phone.
Thanks smart phone.
Even with an iPhone in hand, the strange Japanese man could tell we weren’t exactly sure where we were going. All I knew was that after a 14-hour flight, I was tired, my legs hurt and now we had some random dude on an old bicycle offering his help.
My husband caught my shrug of acceptance.
“Uh…yeah. We don’t want to bother you or anything but we’re trying to get to this place.” He offered the paper with our hotel directions printed in English and traditional Japanese script.
The Japanese man rubbed the back of his neck, pulled out his phone and said, “I think I know where it’s at. I’m going to look on my phone to be sure.”
He made small talk, and seemed impressed by my husband’s basic grasp of their language. “Not many Americans say things right way,” he said.
“Okay I know where it’s at now.” He paused. You could see the wheels turning before he spoke again. “Harder to explain so I’ll just take you there. Follow me.”
He waved away my husband’s hesitation. “It’s no problem. Tokyo is an extremely safe city. But much faster if I show you there. I know a shortcut.”
And that was our first meeting with Toshi. No Youtube video or vlog could prepare us for this very generous, and VERY eccentric Japanese man. The more we spoke to him, the more we learned about Toshi. He actually lived close to where he first found us, and he was no homeless man. Far from it in fact.
Toshi was the CEO of a computer company. “A small business,” he said and scrunched his nose. If he called overseeing a few hundred employees and counting companies like IBM as clients small, I wanted to know what his view of BIG companies look like.
After our first “lost in Tokyo” adventure, Toshi gave us a grand tour of the city that only a local entrepreneur could lead.
We ate at his favorite sushi bar and enjoyed sushi the traditional Japanese way. Toshi was always sure to give us history lessons along the way and he took us to uniquely awesome, local spots. He even offered my husband a job with his company (at least 3 times throughout the week) and partnership opportunities in his new business venture.
So, if you’re ever in Tokyo and are stopped by a man asking if you need help with thinning light-brown-dyed hair with a skull ring on his finger that serves as a reminder of his young biker gang days, and a crooked smile, say yes.
You’ll be in good hands.
Remember, whether you’re back at home, traveling cross-country, or taking a 14 hour flight halfway across the world, the key is to open yourself up to meeting new people, experiencing new things and avoid limiting yourself by trying to pre-plan everything.
Giving yourself time during your vacation for exploration and the space to make adjustments will allow you to take advantage of any situation that arises.
You never know what can happen.