When I was nineteen, I was living in Tokyo preparing for the university entrance exam. University entrance exams are a big thing in Japan, and especially in Tokyo, there are countless schools dedicated to help students with their exam studies. Students take lessons from morning until evening, and the school encourages them to study more afterwards by providing them with 24/7 quiet study booths. I was enrolled in one of such schools.
Since the robotic atmosphere of the study booths was stifling to me, I usually preferred to work in a nearby coffee shops and restaurants. In the morning, I would leave home early and go to a fast food restaurant called Lotteria near my school to study for an hour before the classes.
This restaurant was extremely well-maintained. Despite the fact that it was located next to a train station and always busy, the staffs were kind and caring, and the place was always spotless clean. Every morning, at around seven, I would arrive at the shop to order my breakfast set.
Among all the staffs, there was one person in a black uniform who was particularly radiant. He was always there when I came in the morning, working busy behind the counter giving instructions to other staffs and at the same time taking orders from the customers. He was a young man with a thin body, but his voice was clear and far-reaching. Every person who came in the door was welcomed by his big smile and warm greeting right on the doorstep.
Once it was pouring outside, and my train journey from home to the restaurant was not pleasant. The weather was depressing and the people on the packed train were even more cranky than usual. By the time I reached the restaurant, I was feeling so miserable that my movement was disorganized and I was hit by the closing automatic door as I stepped in. That was almost enough to break me into tears when I heard the familiar voice.
“Good morning, welcome to our store!”
When I looked up, the staff in the black uniform beamed at me as usual. That moment, all my misery of that morning went away. It was as if I had stepped into a place where I belonged, like a home. Suddenly, all the chaos and coldness I had been feeling a moment ago became a distant event. I was no longer a miserable person.
This Lotteria was my lighthouse throughout the year. Every morning and evening, as I passed by the restaurant, I would look through the glass doors to observe the way staffs at the counter were working. It was a reminder that in this busy crowded city there was somebody who was working throughout the day witnessing people and making them feel seen by offering a clean and welcome place to spend their moment.