Japan Economic Foundation

Chairman's Article
(excerpts from JEF's Magazine "Japan Spotlight")

57 . An Aspect of American Culture

An Aspect of American Culture
November/December 2007
Noboru Hatakeyama
Chairman and CEO
Japan Economic Foundation

Thirty years ago, I was living in Chicago with my wife and three sons who
ranged in age from 2 to 6. We traveled quite often on vacation, mostly
driving in our car. In one winter, we drove down to Key West, Florida, all
the way from Chicago.

In another winter, we drove to the northern Mexican city of Matamoros. On
our way back, we enjoyed treasure hunting on the beach at Corpus Christi,
Texas. It was very warm and we could have enjoyed swimming there.
However, it started snowing in St. Louis. It was a bit disturbing for me
because I knew I would have to clear the snow that might have accumulated
already or be accumulating from then in the driveway of my home in the
northwestern part of Evanston, Illinois, even late at night when we could
expect to arrive there. The snow in the suburban area of Chicago turned
out to be much heavier than had been expected and my worry deepened as I
thought about the hard work of shoveling the snow after a long drive from

When we returned home after 11 p.m., we were surprised to see there was no
snow in the driveway of my home. The snow had been cleared! The next day,
I learned that a gentleman who lived across the street from our house
kindly removed the snow. When I went to see him to express my
appreciation, he simply said, "That is what neighbors are for."

One summer, we drove to the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It took us three
days to get there, another three days to enjoy the scenery and the last
three days to return home. On the eighth day of our trip, we arrived in
Jamestown, North Dakota, at around 7 p.m. and started looking for a hotel
to stay overnight. The sun was still high and we were all happy with the
memories of the beautiful Canadian Rockies, looking forward to going back
home the following day. Although it was a small town, there were many
hotels. But we could not find any vacancy signs. I stopped and got out of
my car at each hotel to see if there was any vacancy. It took time. The
sun had already set. And at 8:30 p.m. or so, a severe thunderstorm
suddenly struck. Because of fear and hunger, our sons were sobbing, an
account they now deny. At the last hotel I checked, I asked the hotel
clerk what we should do. He said flatly, "Why don't you go to Fargo?"

Fargo is the capital city of North Dakota and I thought there might be some
vacant rooms available for us. However, it would take two hours or so
through the thunderstorm to get there. It was already 10 p.m., and it
would be past midnight when we got there. Inevitably, I decided to take I
94 to go to Fargo, but just before the entrance to the Interstate highway,
my wife shouted, "There is a vacancy sign down there!" I drove my car to
the motel with the vacancy sign, parked my car in a parking lot and rushed
to the motel through the heavy rain.

I was stupid for having done so. Another car was behind us but the driver
of that car parked it just in front of the entrance and entered the hotel
first. Because it was a small motel, there was nobody at the front desk.
What both of us were paying attention to was a key box attached to the
wall, with only one key left. He looked at me and I looked at him without
saying a word. Then, the proprietor of the motel came out and asked us,
"Who was the first?" He looked at me and I looked at him once again. Then
he said, "You were the first to have pulled your car in. Please take that
key. I will go to Fargo. Let's meet there tomorrow if possible." I asked
his name and address. He just smiled and went to his car. His family with
two small children was waiting for him in the car. His car soon
disappeared into the black night as I held the hotel key in my hand.

After returning home, I told this story to my neighbors. One of the ladies
advised me, "You should have remembered the license plate number. It is
our humble culture to write a thank you letter by getting his name and
address from the State Department of Transportation, making use of the
number you remembered."