It was just before Christmas and my friend and I were hanging out in Ikebukuro, an area on the north side of Tokyo. We had been wandering around aimlessly and were outside a convenience store when a man approached us.
He was an older man, thin and a little shorter than me. He had white hair and a scruffy, nicotine-stained beard. Given that we were in an entertainment district, I half expected him to be promoting a hostess bar or pink salon, but it quickly became clear that he just wanted to talk. He asked many questions and seemed sincerely interested in us.
After just a few minutes of conversation, he suddenly excused himself and went into the convenience store, emerging a little later with a piece of fried chicken and a beer for each of us. After a few more minutes, he said goodnight and went on his way.
The entire experience was quite brief, and though it was certainly a pleasant encounter, it was also somewhat bewildering. Who was he? Why had he chosen us to receive his kindness?
It’s not the only time something like that has happened to me. At least a dozen times in the last six years, strangers have appeared out of nowhere to strike up a friendly conversation. Occasionally, they’ve also offered food or drinks.
Tokyo can feel like a very cold and impersonal place. In fact, it’s easily the loneliest place I’ve ever lived. But there are kind people around, no matter where you go, and sometimes they emerge from the woodwork to buy you a snack and give you a reason to smile.