Chance encounters in a far-away land

Published 10:41 am Thursday, September 7, 2017

When my best friend was living in Japan a few years ago, I managed to save up enough money to go visit her. I was not only thrilled to see her again, but also to go sightseeing and eat some of my favorite Japanese cuisine once more.

What I didn’t consider in all my excitement for the trip were the people I would get to meet and interact with while there.

It’s easy to forget sometimes, especially when wrapped up in the bubble of daily routine, but there’s a whole world of people out there, just living their own lives. Japan and its people were no different.

There was the cashier in the little coffee shop we stopped in, who asked us questions about life in North Carolina. We were the only customers in the mid-morning hour, laughing as we tried to remember if there was anything famous enough about North Carolina for him to know. Being put on the spot, the only thing we came up with was Nicholas Sparks and his multitude of sappy romance novels and movies. There was a moment when we all laughed at the realization none of us liked “The Notebook.”

There was the college student taking his mother on a sightseeing trip while on break from classes, who kindly stopped when we asked if he could snap a photo of my best friend and me. At that particular point in the trip, I was fighting off the last bits of a nasty cold and had almost completely lost my voice, so I didn’t do much of the talking. But they were nice enough to ask (repeatedly) if I was okay, taking the time to suggest hot drinks that might help my throat.

There was the Turkish immigrant who ran a shop in a nearby town. My friend would occasionally stop in to chat, and so when we visited him that day he offered for us to stay and rest awhile. With a cup of Turkish tea in my hands, I listened as he explained the details of all the imported household items from Turkey he sold in the shop, as he wove in details of his life in Japan just as nicely as the colorful tapestry hanging on the walls.

There was another shopkeeper, later, who talked to us for a long time about how much he loved his little seaside town we were visiting. He proudly showed us his wall of autographs, including one from Hugh Jackman when a Hollywood movie crew had descended upon the town for a few days to film parts of “The Wolverine.”

There was also a little girl, the most memorable of all, who came up to my friend and me while we were on a train. She was probably about six or seven years old, all smiles as she attempted to speak with us in English, telling us with much enthusiasm about her plan to go to the aquarium that day. Her father apologized for the intrusion, but we didn’t mind at all. Her excitement was contagious. At the train stop, we parted ways, waving goodbye before she and her father disappeared into the crowd.

They were all just random people that I’ll never meet again, but those little moments remain stuck in my head, though the details around the edges have faded a bit. They were just people passing through my life just as I was just passing through theirs.

It’s funny how you never quite know what chance encounters you’ll have day to day, or what impression you’ll make on someone else’s life.


Holly Taylor is a staff writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or by phone at 252-332-7206.