Last week, I took a trip — one that involved trains, taxis, hotels, and long flights. The first leg was a shinkansen to Tokyo station, then some local trains ending at Narita airport, then waiting on a platform for a shuttle to take me to an airport hotel so I could catch an early flight the next morning. I left at 5p and arrived at my hotel around 9:15, and I didn’t speak to a soul until I sat next to a Danish mother and baby on the hotel shuttle. It was amazing, and I read practically the entire time. This is a thing to both love and hate about life in Japan, the personal space you carry with you everywhere, leaving you untouched by the thousands that will pass you as you travel through life here. When I emerge from the home, emptied by the sound and touch that’s necessary to motherhood, I am so thankful no one expects me to carry on a conversation with them. But most other times, it makes me sad that this great mass of humanity has no thought to engage beyond themselves, and I wonder: how has this factored into depression and suicide rates here, where I live?
Contrast this with my time in Bali, Indonesia — where all the locals looked me in the eye and smiled, and everyone wanted to know where I was from (among other things — it was a tourist city, after all). I couldn’t get over how strangers wanted to interact with me, and the first few days, the difference of this to my routine life in Japan made me giddy and excited. How invigorating human contact is! We have surely been made to need each other. On my way back home, I was waiting for a delayed red-eye, and passed three hours time in an airport lounge with a Canadian passenger, and a Swiss. We talked about all manner of things while we sipped beers, and eventually the conversation turned toward faith and Jesus, as the reality of what we did in Japan became clearer. (I don’t lead conversations with, “We are missionaries!”, as that can frequently be a roadblock for others — so unless we talk longer than 20 minutes, you could very well walk away knowing only that my husband and I live overseas and work for an NPO.) It was amazing to me, how I could then find myself praying for the wounds and the troubles of my new friends as I fell asleep on the flight later. I gave them both my email, and think of them often. These things left me hungry to interact with passers-by here in Japan — to look people in the eye and wonder about what’s inside their bubble, underneath their skin. What opportunity there is in a smile and ventured kindness to a stranger! Who knows what God would do with that? With five loaves and two fish?