It seems like something always happens on my journey to and from work, and Friday was no exception. I walked from school to the station with one of the pupils, who was also heading that way to catch a train to go to “juku” (sometimes translated as “cram school,” it’s a kind of extra school that some children attend a couple of times a week to study more. Personally, I think it’s a bad idea and the hallmark of excessively pushy parents’ vicarious ambitions. As if school wasn’t hard enough already! I’m sure that those pupils work harder than I do).

As we reached the station, I stopped to buy some crystallised kumquats (really!) from a stall while he got some sweets and drink from the kiosk next to the entrance, and I saw him again on the platform. He realised that he couldn’t find his multiple-journey ticket, despite having used it to get through the barrier into the station, and after searching his bag and pockets on the train, it was still nowhere to be seen.

This was obviously distressing to him; nine-year-olds don’t tend to carry much cash, and he didn’t have enough to get home again after juku. Nor, indeed, could he actually get out through the automatic gate at the other end.

I suggested that we both get off at the next stop and talk to the station staff and sort it out. The staff were unfailingly helpful and courteous. Compare that with British railways! They phoned the departure station to check that he hadn’t dropped the ticket after going through the gate. But no. So they wrote him a specialcard enabling him to get out at the other end and to get back home again.

It was a strange experience for me, helping out a child in a foreign language. Although he can speak Japanese far better than I, he didn’t have the confidence or knowledge to go to the staff and ask for help. Once introduced, though, he did fine.

I’m sure that he was able to get to juku and back, and I was very impressed with the way in which the station staff behaved. Customer service often manifests itself as little more than a fake smile and insincere greetings, so it was good to see people being genuinely helpful. I must admit, I suspect that, when he checks his pockets and bag again in a less frantic frame of mind, he’ll find the card. I’ll ask him next time I have a chance.