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Kindred Spirits

Kindred Spirits

In a world still obsessed by the thread count of linen, scented spa treatments and concierge services, sometimes - especially this time of the year, during the festive season - it’s the kindness of strangers that just might define the idea of millennial luxury travel.

It’s true that travel broadens the mind; but just as often, it also enriches the spirit, deepening the connection between us, and the place and people we’re visiting. Sometimes, that connection arises in the most unexpected way - surprising us by the suddenness of the moment and, equally, the quicksilver flash in which it disappears.

I once made the mistake of taking the Tokyo subway just on the edge of the morning rush-hour. The route on the map had looked easy enough when the concierge had explained it back at the hotel. Except, somehow, once I was deep in the bowels of Ginza station, I found myself on the wrong platform, jostled this way and that by rivers of commuters hurrying to their trains and desks.

Out of the milling, impassive crowd, a face turned around and stopped. In a mix of pigeon English and wild gestures, I explained I was lost. With a nod, he led me through long winding corridors, up an escalator, and more corridors before gently herding me onto a platform where, on the platform map, he pointed to my station and the approaching train.

A shy smile, a brisk bow, and he turned and disappeared into the crowd, waving, even as I called out, “Thank you! Arigato gozaimasu!”

Not long after, I found myself in a tiny seaside village in Ise Shima, a couple of hours south of Nagoya in a region long prized for its calm clear waters that produce luminous pearls, and extraordinary cuisine.

After a few nights dining in, I asked the concierge to recommend a local restaurant for dinner. There weren’t many in the neighbourhood, he said, and certainly none that catered to English-speaking tourists. But if I was willing, there was one diner on the edge of town that might suit?

It turned out to be the most memorable meal of my life, even though not one person in that small, low-ceilinged, timber-lined dining room spoke a word of English and the menu was entirely in Japanese. For just as I was wondering if I’d made a mistake leaving the hotel, the grandmother on my right at the counter seat nudged me in the ribs and pushed over a small plate of tempura prawns from her dinner, motioning me to eat. Then the young couple on my left offered a plate with some slivers of silver bait and a round of salmon nigiri. Another table sent over chopstick-tender braised pork smothered in wasabi.

Amid much miming with the chef and laughter, I sent back wood-fired chicken wings, fried sesame-flavoured tofu, creamy potato croquettes, and a round of beer.

I’ve never forgotten the kindness of those families in the restaurant, their generous spirit overcoming the superficial barriers between us to share a meal with a complete stranger. Nor the man in the Tokyo subway who chose to stop and help when he was in a rush somewhere else.

To this day, whenever I travel, especially around the festive season, I remember those unguarded moments that enhanced my life in a way no guidebook or concierge ever could - what precious gifts they have been.

“If we live every day, whether at home or away, with kindness,” the travel writer, Don George once noted, “if we approach the world…with respect and openness, if we see our human differences as enriching rather than threatening, we will go a long way toward creating a world graced…with peace and opportunity.”

And that, as the ad goes, is priceless.


Are you looking to embark on your very own journey to Japan? Find out more here.

We look forward to journeying with you.

Daven Wu is a freelance journalist based in London and Singapore. He is the Singapore Editor at Wallpaper*, and also edits the Louis Vuitton City Guide Singapore.

Daven Wu is a freelance journalist based in London and Singapore. He is the Singapore Editor at Wallpaper*, and also edits the Louis Vuitton City Guide Singapore.

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