Japanese people do not strike up conversations with strangers. The only exception is to comment on the weather. Even if something extraordinary is happening and a lot of people are watching, they will just look at each other, yearning to comment but unable to make that leap.
That being said, I had the strangest experience yesterday. I was waiting for the bus and the woman waiting next to me commented on the humidity. I agreed that it was very uncomfortable, thinking that would be the end of it. But she went on about how awful Tokyo summers are, and I figured that was a pleasant enough way to pass the time while we waited.
When we got on the bus, she sat behind me and by the time we got to the stop where we were both getting off, I had learned that there are eight people living in her house, including her two divorced daughters, each with two elementary school aged kids, each working full time because their deadbeat ex-husbands contribute nothing. They have to eat their meals in two shifts because there are so many of them and they often don’t have anything particularly nice to eat but the kids are very good-natured about that. Although she is 70, she wants to work but can’t because she has to be on-call in case one of the kids develops the sniffles and has to be fetched from school. She was on her way to meet a friend and they were planning to go to Yamanashi where they might be able to enjoy some better…weather.
As we parted at the station, she thanked me for talking with her about such a variety of topics and I wished her a nice time with her friend. And all of this is just the parts of the conversation that I understood. There were some other parts I didn’t quite get, but it didn’t seem to matter.
I have NEVER had such an intimate conversation with a total stranger outside of long Greyhound bus rides and New York City. At first I thought she was just lonely, but with all those people in her house, that seems unlikely. And she didn’t ask me a single question about myself, so she wasn’t interested in me.
I think she was just stressed out and needed someone to talk to. Anyone. Maybe my being a foreigner made it easier for her. I hope I did her some good.