Tokyo, 19 April 2009 -- It was late, when I returned from Taipei to Tokyo. I had the address of the hotel that had been pre-reserved for me in the heart of the Japanese capital, close to the Ueno station. Howeverâ€¦ the web page with the address of the hotel did not include a map. And the map at the station was only in Japanese. It was already passed 10 pm. I was alone, with my luggage that was way too heavy. I was tired.
So, I decided to call up the hotel to ask for directions on how to get there. The man at the other end of the phone line did not understand what I was trying to tell himâ€¦ he only spoke Japanese. Discouraged, I hung up the phone after a few moments of mutual incomprehension â€śarigato, arigatoâ€ťâ€¦ nowâ€¦ what next?
With my crumpled piece of paper with the hotel address, I went to the only convenient store open at this late hour and asked again the same questionâ€¦. First, a few moments of struggle to understand each other, then the willingness to help the foreigner who looked a bit lost, one of the employees took my paper and went to see the map outside his shop. After a few moments, I followed him.
All the sudden, I heard a manâ€™s voice who asks me in perfect English: â€śCan I help you?â€ť I was a bit uneasy, looking around me to find out whom the voice belonged to that had come out of nowhere.
Pretty soon thereafter, the sales assistant from the shop and the stranger continued to analyze the map and the address. Then, the voice with an American accent said â€śthe hotel is not far, itâ€™s just a bit complicated to get thereâ€¦ but donâ€™t worry, I will take you there".
In normal times, I might have refused the kind offer, but given the situation, I was happy to have found someone willing to help me.
On the way to the hotel, the stranger explained that he was a poet. He had visited the world, from Afghanistan to Europe, through Russia and the United States of America. But he had come to the conclusion that his home and destiny at this time in his life was in Japan.
He sighed: â€świth the crises, times are tough for a poet like me". Then, after a moment of silence, he completed: "this is my home, I live at the station now". He said it with simplicity and dignity. I thought to myself: â€śhere am I, downtown Tokyoâ€ťâ€¦ two strangers in the night, exchanging just a few futile words. Yet, they say so much about our society worldwide, the values that have been placed as predominant, those included in the race for consumerism, material values and then all the others, sometimes faced with the harsh reality of existence â€¦
Once arrived at our destination, I gave the man some change for his services I had greatly appreciated. He pulled out of his pocket a little photocopied booklet, with poems translated into French and a website on the back: www.hideoasano.com.
Go and have a look. The strangerâ€™s name is Hideo Asano. He writes magnificent poemsâ€¦ and he is looking for a publisher.
Paths cross sometimes, and you meet people â€śby accidentâ€ť. This particular encounter will remain in my memory. Lives, paths, destinies, and we all can one day be in a situation we never would have imagined.