Wherever we travel, we return with fond memories of the people we encounter along the way. Many of them remain anonymous, for they play only a walk on role and we simply observe and (sometimes) take particular notice. Some leave deeper, more lasting impressions, such as the four charming university students in the photo above, who chatted to us on the Harajuku bridge last Sunday afternoon.
They were doing a university project about cultural differences, focusing on naming conventions. Before approaching us, they hovered for a while, building confidence and trying to appoint the most able interviewer. The young woman on the left of the group drew the short straw and came over and introduced herself, explaining the project and asking our permission to record our answers to a few questions in audio, video and still photography - and pen and paper too! They were so charming - how could we refuse? Embarrassed giggles, profuse thanks and informal photos taken all round afterwards in return for five minutes of our time.
The questions? They asked about how our names were structured (given name - family name), whether there was a convention on the choice of given name (amazement when we said that a child could be given any name the parents fancied...tree, flower sky or David Beckham) and how names were changed when a marriage took place. A simple yet rather interesting focus to observing cultural differences, all conducted in fairly confident English with the utmost courtesy.
Another real life cameo is represented by the little girl walking to school. We admire the young people going to and from school as we sit on the train, noting their school uniforms which can be rather distinctive if based on some naval or military style. One late afternoon, a small girl boarded our train wearing a navy blue uniform with a neckerchief and sergeant's stripes on one arm (reminiscent of my old Brownie uniform) Aged about 8 or 9, she wore her bowler-style hat firmly on her head, elastic under the chin, and carried a heavy and rather solid rucksack on her back. Attached to one strap of her rucksack was a small panic button. Her confidence and assured actions were remarkable for one so young and she too, will join the ranks of characters populating our Tokyo story.
Who else is there? Well, the larger than life chap who entered the lift in the hotel accompanied by a bevy of beauties, who wore a dark suit with gold shoes, no socks. The (French) chap wearing a pink and white striped blazer, beige trousers and leopard skin shoes and his more conventionally suited friends who commented on his attire for the whole elevator journey. The single homeless person we spotted during our whole stay, who had engineered a washing line from traffic cones and hung a line of clothes neatly out to dry under Tokyo Town Hall. The restaurant staff who gently advised us how to manage the various unidentifiable foodstuffs which they brought to our table, graciously turning a blind eye to our inevitable faux-pas and presumably countless lapses of table manners. The generous and kind Tokyo residents who offered help and suggestions when we stood on a street corner looking at a map and trying to work out where we were.
Finally, but probably most important, all those patient commuters who encounter people like us every day and yet maintain such good humour, even tempers and exercise such patience when we stop suddenly to take a photograph, stand bemused as we watch whatever is going on and frequently get things horribly wrong.
It's these people who make our travel so enlightening and so memorable.