THOSE STRANGERS YOU MEET ON THE ROAD… OR ELSEWHERE.
THIRD EPISODE: FROM FRANCE TO JAPAN
(A Eulogy to Postcrossing)
Don’t you dare to speak to strangers!” We’ve all been hearing this, especially during childhood. Because strangers are unknown, and unknown is scary, filled up with bad intentions, particularly with those fizzing candies and long raincoats. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, for it’s actually a good piece of advice for kids, whom are innocents and don’t really know about mistrust, carefulness, and well, who knows what could happen to a helpless kid? However… I’m wondering why this piece of advice stays stuck within us once we grew up. Is it right? Aren’t we doing too much being so cold and distrustful towards strangers? What’s going to happen if we step up, just a little, out of our comfort bubble?
Here, I’ll try to prove from A to Z how it can be really awesome sometimes to let yourself go and talk to strangers, to trust them a little and moreover to take some time to… Just speak and get to know them.
While travelling, you often get some random acts of kindness. Maybe because you’re more up to it, more open to it, and also more dependent on it. Here, I wanted to share some of those encounters with strangers, some of those acts of random kindness, some great surprises I had with strangers, and therefore what I learned from it. I’ve got plenty of little stories that I’d like to share and write about. I hope this little saga will have the advantage of bringing a different, yet optimistic glance upon our world.
I’m telling you, folks. You can talk to strangers. That’s pure happiness.
A MAILBOX ON AVENUE DE COLMAR, STRASBOURG
Have you ever heard about Postcrossing? The concept is pretty simple: you send postcards all around the world to random strangers and, in exchange, your mailbox gets full with postcards from other people around the world. You create an online profile in which you indicate which languages you speak, where you come from, and what you like (or dislike) in life. According to this profile, random strangers in the world will send you postcards with foxes, mountains or unusual objects (for example.) About what’s going to be written on those, that’s the real surprise: whether it’s going to be about life in Finland, a traditional Canadian recipe, a list of books you must read or even a kid’s drawing, that will get you an insight into somebody’s life out there in the world.
When my co-worker Julie told me about Postcrossing, I fell in love with the concept right away. And in over 6 months, I sent something like 150 postcards all around the world and received as much in my little blue mailbox in Strasbourg.
One day, though, I got this postcard from Japan. My very first postcard from Japan. From Noriko, a Japanese mum. It was a Nausicaa postcard (if you never watched this Studio Ghibli anime, now you know what to do tonight). It was everything we needed to start an epistolary friendship between the poor 27 years old unemployed French girl that I was and this Japanese ukulele player housewife.
For a few months, we wrote each other postcards, long letters about our lives in France and in Japan. Of course, I was dreaming to go to Japan. Of course, Noriko was dreaming to go to France. It’s like I could feel her eyes sparkling when she was writing me about her desire to come to France to take a walk in Versailles. She also knew about Strasbourg and the Alsace region, which was quite surprising, for I had no idea at first where Matsumoto was. My fascination for Sailor Moon made her laugh, and she sent me some postcards I couldn’t have found anywhere but in Japan. We sent each other gifts from our home countries for our birthdays or for Christmas. Like dear friends do with each other.
SOME SUBWAY STATION IN TOKYO, JAPAN
It’s hot in Tokyo. The Shibuya station is obviously crowded. I don’t get the internet with my French SIMcard, I should have bought a Japanese one. I hope I’m not late, I hope I’m in the right place. It’s so uneasy to find where you are around here. This is where I’m supposed to meet Noriko in flesh and for real. Noriko, my Postcrossing penpal. When I told her I was going to live in New Zealand for a year, she offered me to host me right away, at her place. Did I mention that going to Japan was a dream of a lifetime? Of course, I thought she was just being polite when she offered to host me. It turned out she was really serious, for she wanted to show me her city, her house, her family, her cute dog, and the bits of Japan she really likes.
I couldn’t have dreamt of such a beautiful experience. Noriko was the friendliest host ever, like a second Japanese Mom for me. She was showing me around Matsumoto with its ice cream robots, its shops full of Sailor Moon goodies, its temples, and its beautiful famous medieval black castle. She even took me on a sightseeing bus tour in Tokyo so I could get a better glimpse of this vibrant city. I even got the chance to go on a trip with her and her family in the Japanese Alps, to see some monkeys and spend a night in an Onsen Ryokan (which still remains one of my best travelling experiences ever.) I’m barely mentioning all the delicious restaurants she brought me in (oishi desu!) and the bento she cooked for me with love (and pandas) for my trip to Kyoto. Her laugh still echoes in me. And her embarrassed smile when I wanted to hug her. Japanese people aren’t used to those effusions of affection, and I can’t think of any other way to express my gratitude and my thankfulness than to give a hug. When I think about it, almost two years later, I’m still surprised about how everything turned out for us. This unlikely meeting between a Japanese and a French Postcrosser really happened, and it still gives me shivers of happiness up on my spine just to think of it.
A BUS STATION, MATSUMOTO, JAPAN
I just spent the whole night on the bus. After two flights, a Paris-Istanbul and an Istanbul-Tokyo, plus 5 hours spent at the Atatürk airport drinking mint tea in the middle of the night, plus 8 hours in the Tokyo to Matsumoto night bus, which makes at least 25 hours traveling where I’ve seen two sunsets, well, I must say I’m exhausted, and my muscles are hurting from all these awkward positions I had tried in order to sleep on seats. Noriko is picking me up at the bus stop at 5:41 a.m and I can tell that she also has lines under her eyes.
However, what to say about our smiles when we see each other, those spontaneous happy smiles? What to say except that our international friendship is definitely a kind of magic? Noriko tells me that I’m lucky, my timing is perfect, Hanami (the Japanese custom of contemplating blooming cherry trees) has just started in Matsumoto. And now, this early in the morning is the perfect time to admire the sakura (cherry trees) away from the crowds.
Everything’s quiet around the Matsumoto Castle. The city is barely awaking. Sakura flowers smells are floating in the morning wind, and some photographs are already setting up their tripods and shooting with gravity. Some passers-by are walking their dogs, some are jogging and here I am. Flabbergasted. By so much quietness and beauty.
I was dreaming so much about those blooming sakura.
And here I am again, in Japan for the second time, reunited with my friend who’s kindly hosting me again in her house like I’m part of her family. A friend who got my address in a highly random way thanks to Postcrossing more than two years ago.
Yes my friend, sometimes a postcard can be life-changing.