The kindness of strange (foreign)ers.

Today is one of my days off, so I washed some clothes and headed to the laundromat down the street to dry them. The manager, an old man who lives upstairs in the same building, was crouched near the doorway, doing something with the closest washer while another man stood farther in. Once I got into the place, I could see what was going on. The bank of washers includes two larger-capacity machines, so the end washer hangs off the raised part of the floor a little. Because of that, its left feet are supported by bricks. The old man was trying to lift the machine just enough to slip a piece of cardboard in under the front foot (apparently having already done the back one). Meanwhile, the other guy — a regular customer like me — just stood there and watched the manager struggle. I set down my laundry, walked over, crouched down, and lifted up on the washer with the old man, giving him enough space to slip the cardboard into the gap. He thanked me two or three times, I deflected, and went on with my laundry business. The other guy got on his bike and left as I finished, and as I made to leave, the old man addressed me:

“As always, foreigners are friendly, huh?” he chuckled. “Japanese are cold-hearted.”

It struck me as odd, because the Japanese have always been helpful to me, but now that I think of it, it’s almost always after I ask. I guess the mindset here of keeping out of others’ business extends to helping people of one’s own volition. It reminds me of another situation when I spotted a guy struggling unassisted with a large, heavy PC tower in Akiba months ago, and I quickly walked over and helped him get it to the corner so someone could pick him up. I never even considered something like helping strangers a cultural thing, but now I’m not so sure.

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