5 People that Amazed Me in Japan

‘There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.’ Albert Einstein

We all have a story. Every story is beautiful on its own. I love listening to people’s stories. There’s always something miraculous in them. I met five such people in Japan, whose stories or actions touched my heart.

1. Sumo fighter Abdelrahman

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Me and my husband visited one of the sumo stables in Tokyo in search of a sumo fight. The fight was over by the time we got there and the sumo wrestlers were cleaning up the stable. No one spoke English. They called the only English speaking fighter Oosunaarashi for help. Oosunaarashi came out – brown-skinned, arab sumoist. Surprised and intrigued, we asked if he was a real sumo fighter. Turns out he was.

His name was Abdelrahman, from Egypt. He had been dreaming to be a professional sumo fighter in Japan since he was 15. He did professional sumo trainings in Egypt and became so good that he got into the national sumo team. Then he reached out to a few sumo clubs in Japan expressing his interest in moving to Tokyo and joining them. But they all rejected him as Abdelrahman says ‘because he was a foreigner, and moreover, an Arab’. Abdelrahman emailed back and forth with these clubs for four years trying to convince them, but failed.

During one of the tournaments the head of the Dutch delegation sees Abdelrahman’s enthusiasm to go to Japan and decides to pay for his ticket. He flies to Tokyo, meets with the sumo club members, despite many rejections, he keeps trying and finally the club decides to give him a chance. Abdelrahman has been a professional sumo fighter in Tokyo for 2 years already. He is the first and only sumo fighter in Japan from Africa and Middle East, already winning several divisions and awards. He looked very passionate doing what he loved and he had tried many years to get there.

He once again reminded me that: patience, persistence and hard work will get you anywhere – even if you have to break a lot of stereotypes.

2. Jazz singer Akiko

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We were in a ticket line for the new year party at the highest club in Tokyo on the 52nd floor – Mado Lounge. The cashier didn’t speak English and couldn’t understand our questions. A lady stepped up and helped by translating our questions and cashier’s answers. She then introduced herself and her friends, her name was Akiko.

Smiling, she passed 2 discount tickets for the party and left. I looked at the tickets – Akiko’s picture was on them, turns out, she was the lead performer of the show and a famous jazz singer in Japan. At night despite many fans lining to take a picture with her, Akiko came to find us. We chatted, took pictures and she amazed me with her modesty and simplicity.

The whole time I had Coco Chanel’s quote in mind: ‘Adornment, what a science! Beauty, what a weapon! Modesty, what elegance!’

3. The taxi driver

We took a taxi back to hotel on the night of the 1st of January. We were in a great mood, joking and laughing the whole time, both were joyful and careless. We arrived at the hotel, taximeter was showing 1400 yen ($14), we paid and were about to leave, when the driver returned 200 yen (2$), saying he made one wrong turn on the way. I was filled with surprise and amazement. It’s the new year night, everyone is celebrating and no one really cares about the amount of money or wrong turns at these times. Furthermore, we are tourists and have no clue about the streets. But this driver’s conscience was above all. I had a huge grin on my face – 2014 started with us meeting an amazing person!

Sometimes in life we will face difficult choices, such as money or inner peace, wealth or moral values. Always choose the second one. Money brings temporary happiness, but clean conscience is a permanent wealth and joy.

4. The ninja Ulyana

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There are very few foreigners in Japan. So imagine going to a ninja restaurant in Tokyo and the ninja waiter there turns out to be a Russian girl Ulyana! She had been watching anime movies since she was a kid, fell so much in love with Japanese culture that started learning the language.Without any instructor. On her own.

Though her parents were very unhappy about this ‘hobby’ of hers, Ulyana keeps on going. She was fluent in Japanese within a few years and became a Russian-Japanese translator. Then she was admitted to a school in Tokyo. Currently, she studies in Japanese and works as a ninja in the evenings.

I could see happiness in her eyes – she chased her dream with hard work and persistence, and now she was living it.

5. The sushi chef

Starving from a few hours of non-stop walking and sightseeing, I went into a small restaurant in Tokyo with only 6 chairs. The food was heavenly, the german girl sitting next to me told the story of the chef cooking for us.

The chef’s profession was an architect. But was so passionate about cooking that bought a street food cart and started selling food there. His food became so popular that someone offered him a free restaurant space. This place soon became on of the hottest spots in Tokyo. They offered to give him a Michelin star, he refused. He didn’t want to be famous.

Then one businessman offered him a lead chef job at 60-70 people restaurant and much higher income. He refused that as well, since in a big restaurant he wouldn’t be able to cook every single meal himself and wouldn’t be able to control the quality of food. For him, good quality work and content customers stood above any fame and wealth. Most Japanese are like this – perfectionist, doing what they love, content…

It was hard for me to comprehend this perfectionism of Japanese after living in aggressive New York City, but once I saw this chef’s passion towards what he was doing, everything fell into place.

These are ordinary people with extraordinary stories like every single of us. Each of us has inspiring stories and is able to warm another heart by a simple action of kindness.

Be kind and don’t underestimate people around you. Go talk to them.

Ask questions. Discover. Be amazed.

Appreciate small things in life.

And live as if everything is a miracle…

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