Onboard the flight, but before take-off, I walk to the back of the plane to use the toilet. It’s occupied, so I wait until it becomes free. After a few moments, the red occupied light goes out and a middle-aged Japanese women – an obachan – emerges. As soon as the woman notices that I am waiting, she gives me a quick, deep bow and I, in a complete reflex, bow in return. And so it went, my first encounter with a Japanese stranger. I was expecting paralysing culture-shock, but instead I discovered that a good bow is a good bow no matter who you are or where you come from. I’d received no instruction or advice on when to bow, it just simply happened. Hopefully, when I arrived in Tokyo and people started speaking Japanese to me, I’d respond with a similar fluency.
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