A True Joy of Japan: Honorable Honesty
Julia had a little incident in Nara that reminded me about one of Japan's most admirable qualities: the honor and honesty of its wonderful people. And all it took was the small act of a forthright deer snack vendor to bring credit to an entire nation.
...The excitable Julia was on her first-ever souvenir budget of Y1000 a day, a sum subject to taxation for the behavioral issues that are typical of an 8-year-old traveling. By day six, her total accumulation, minus purchases and taxes, amounted to just over Y2000, most of which was stored securely in two tightly folded Y1000 yen notes tucked deeply in the change purse dangling from her neck. The Kanji printed on the blue polysetser said "secret stash", and she guarded its contents as if they were highly classified.
...Then came Nara's deer. The deer! The deer! Julia had to buy crackers to feed the deer! She raced towards a lonely cornerside vendor and made the quick Y150 transaction, then it was off to feed the deer! Pumping adrenaline into the mix were herds of equally excitable bucks, one of whom nipped Julia and startled her into sprinting away.
...After examining the wound and calming down, we visited the serene Todaiji Temple, where Julia -- much to her horror -- discovered a terrible truth. She had forgotten to unfold her taut bundle of yen, handing over two bills but getting change for only one. All seemed lost! The crestfallen Julia burned an incense candle in hopes of getting her day's wages back, but the jaded adults held out minimal hope. In fact, this would be a good life lesson about being careful with money, we thought. "You only have a prayer because you're in Japan. This is the only place where a vendor might be so honest," Kevin added as an aside, having been here before.
....Armed with the thinnest of hopes, Julia found the vendor and walked up to her. Julia could only ssay "Sumimasen" in Japanese. The vendor could say nothing in English. Julia jabbered on desperately, her innocent faith in humanity leaking out of her head slowly, dribbling to the ground, mixing with deer urine, crushed mercilessly under the feet of the tourist hoard.
....Then, somehing clicked. The vendor, a stooped old woman who has seen thousands of western faces come and go, recognized Julia and remembered the transaction. You could see the recollection light up her eyes. With a burst of surprised Japanese, she produced Y1000, unfolded it and gave it to Julia! We exited with rapid, profusive. stunned bows of arigatos. "Julia, don't expect this in New York!" is all we could say. The above story is not unique. Almost every visitor to Japan can recount a similar tale, and I'm sure Japanese are amazed that we find such behavior remarkable. This type of honesty is one of Japan's gifts to the world.