I just spent one month traveling around Japan. Throughout my trip, I met dozens local people, learned more about Japanese history and culture, and visited plenty of wonderful castles, parks, shrines and temples. Above all, I learned a few important lessons, which I have already implemented in my daily life.

1. Helpfulness

I did not have data on my phone and, thus, would have to ask for directions literally everywhere I went. So I had quite a few interactions with local people on the streets. Even though I picked up simple sentences such as: “Where is x?” and “I want to go to x”, I was not able to converse in Japanese, and most of them did not speak any English. Despite that fact, people would go miles for me.

There was an instance in Kyoto. I had just arrived in the city and took the metro to my hostel. Since I couldn’t find it, I asked a policeman for directions. While we were trying to communicate in body language, a mother and a daughter walked past and said they could help me (I don’t think they even knew how to say "help"). After they found the place on Google Maps, they said they could take me there with their car (by imitating a steering wheel). Eventually, the husband arrived and all of us sat in the car while he was driving around for 25 minutes or without luck. We stopped at a nearby 7-Eleven, and they went to ask for directions. Then we started walking around the area, searching for the right house (it was 11 p.m. and really cold). After 30 more minutes, we managed to find it... and it turned out the once-hostel was now a a kindergarten (so much for hostel booking platforms!), so they took me to the nearest train station. I took the last train to another hostel. However, these kind people spent more than an hour driving me and running around in freezing cold, trying to find my hostel without any personal gain whatsoever. It was just one of many situations where the Japanese people will go the extra mile... or, in my case, many miles... to help a stranger.

2. Respect

People are extremely respectful of others despite their age, gender, race, nationality or anything else. They will bow to you (often a few times) whenever they greet you or say goodbye. Nobody eats or makes noise on trains and buses, and people will always wait patiently in any queue, never rushing forward.

In other places I've visited, I've been amazed by how impolite and rude a lot of people are. Merchants and restaurant owners often rush you to order without bothering to answer your questions. Or people bump into you on the streets (sometimes quite roughly) without even saying a single word. You will ever see anything like this in Japan, even though Tokyo is one of the world's busiest cities. If, by accident, somebody bumps into you on the street, they will say "sorry" at least a few times while bowing to you. And if you're not sure what to order in Japan (it will happen all the time if you are a vegan/vegetarian, as I am), the wait staff will do their best to help you and other people will come up to ask if they can assist as opposed to rushing you.

3. Humility

A friend of mine from Sri Lanka told me people’s attitude there could be described by this sentence: “You have to behave like an airplane. The higher you climb, the smaller you are.” I haven’t been to Sri Lanka yet, but if anything, this is definitely true about the Japanese people. For example, before a meal they say “Itadakimasu,” which literally translates to “I humbly receive.” Even the highest-ranking politicians or the wealthiest people in the country consider humility as one of the most important character traits and, therefore, do not boast about their achievements or imply they are above anyone else.

When I went to the Himeji Castle (the biggest and most popular Castle in Japan), a 50-something-year-old lady offered to guide me around for free. She called herself an amateur even though she had been guiding people there for 20 years. What’s interesting is that when we talked, she made it look like I was doing her a favor by letting her guide me around. She said I would teach her some English by talking with her during the tour. That was mind-blowing. In most countries, this would be a scam. Someone would guide you around and then ask you to pay for the service. However, she did it simply because she wanted to help me learn more about the Japanese culture and thanked me multiple times after the tour.

Jacob Laukaitis

Japanese culture, of course, has its upsides and downsides. But it's fair to say it was one of the most interesting adventures of my life and I have learned a ton. The way Japanese people live and the way they think is absolutely remarkable.

Jacob Laukaitis, 20, is a location-independent entrepreneur traveling the world while working on ChameleonJohn.com. He loves exploring new cultures, reading books and learning languages, and considers himself a workaholic.