There’s an old couple that I pass on my way to work, and neither them nor I knew quite how to greet each other at first. Every morning, our eyes would meet, but their glance would quickly pass over and onto the road in front of them, or mine would, thus acknowledging each other but not requiring anything to be said in return. One morning, I took the initiative to say good morning, and although this greeting caught the pair off guard for a moment, they quickly recovered and returned the salutation.
A few days of steady greetings later, the passing and exchange became a sort of ritual. This soon became stale, and the old couple decided to up the ante. Their next greeting also included a well wishing send off for the day. “Itterashai,” they said, and with that our acquaintance grew.
I soon began returning the favor, which quickly escalated to the next level of our encounters. “You headed to work?” they asked. “Yes I am,” I replied. “Where are you from?” “I’m from America.” “That’s cool. Have a nice day.” “Thanks, you two as well!”
Some weeks later, the pair became a regular part of my morning routine, which also includes a few school-aged children and a retired gentleman who volunteers as a traffic guard for the nearby elementary. Out of all these people I encounter, the old couple remain my favorite to engage. Even from afar they will return my wave, which is not a common gesture found in Japan.
However, the season’s change has reduced our encounters to once a week or even less, and I find myself worrying about my elderly friends. Perhaps the weather has kept them inside until later in the day, or perhaps they haven’t been feeling quite themselves in the colder mornings. I think next time I’ll ask them how they’re getting along and wish them well. After all, a stranger is just someone you’ve yet to meet.