In 2012 I was living in Seoul, South Korea teaching English at an English Academy in Daebang. During Chuseok (a traditional Korean holiday similar in some ways to the American Thanksgiving holiday) my friend Justin—whom I’d met at free Korean language classes—and I decided to spend the holiday in Japan. We flew into Osaka and spent the day at Osaka Castle and the giant aquarium before meeting one of my friends who was teaching there. After an evening at the famous Dōtonburi Street my friend let us ‘couch-surf’ at his apartment for the night and the next morning we departed for Kyoto where we planned to spend the rest of our trip.
On our first day in Kyoto we explored back alley restaurants together, eating ramen and yakitori for lunch, and while Justin went to a Kabuki performance I spent the time alone wandering into temples tucked in between buildings, art studios, and shops. I finished it all off with an artisan latte in a eccentric little café and while the rain continued to fall outside enjoyed watching the string of people passing by under their colorful umbrellas. We spent the first night in a charming little hostel in Kyoto with bunk beds, bright blue curtains that gave a semblance of privacy but did nothing to block out the noise of the other guests, and personal lockers for our belongings.
The next day, after helping the manager with a translation question, I moseyed upstairs to the common room where hostel guests were encouraged to socialize. It was furnished with a table and folding chairs, a couple puffy armchairs, a TV, bookshelves, games, and a kitchenette with a stash of instant food. With all the amenities, it wasn’t such a surprise that a number of other guests had gathered there to plan their time in the city or to rest between exploratory adventures. My friend Justin was already up there chatting with a few people from Europe and I went to go sit with him shortly before three girls walked into the room laughing and talking.
Turning I caught sight of a familiar smile, blue eyes, and a head of curly blonde hair and blurted out in shock, “Beth?!”
She turned at the sound of her name and we both squealed in surprised excitement as I left my chair and practically skipped across the room to hug her.
“You guys were coming to Kyoto for Chuseok, too?” she asked, laughing as Justin came up next to us, expressing his own delight at this unexpected meeting. “And you’re staying here?”
“We are too!”
Out of all the foreign teachers teaching in Seoul—and there are a lot us, believe me—who were visiting Japan during Chuseok, we not only ran into one that Justin and I both knew from Korean class, but we happened to be staying in the same hostel on the same day. As she introduced us to her friends and co-workers and told us their plans for their time in Kyoto, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the ‘small world’ factor that had allowed our paths to cross in such a wonderfully unexpected way.