A few weeks ago I had one of those “only in Japan” experiences that leaves you shaking your head and asking yourself, “Did that really just happen!?”

Let me explain. It was about 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday. My husband had already gone up to bed but, being a night owl, I was still pottering around downstairs. These days it’s usually just the two of us at home, as our son recently started working and moved out, while his two younger sisters are currently studying overseas. I went upstairs to grab my pajamas before taking a bath and noticed that the door to my older daughter’s room was very slightly ajar. Since we have cats, bedroom doors are usually kept closed to prevent “incidents.” I cracked open the door and one of our cats rushed out, fur spiked up and eyes big and wild. “What’s got you so spooked?” I asked him, peering into the room.

There in the dark I made out the sleeping figure of my husband, lying on our daughter’s bed, snoring softly. There were no sheets on the bed, just a mattress protector. Odd, but maybe he went in there to get a book or something and then fell asleep. Whatever! I proceeded to our bedroom down the hall to retrieve my pajamas — and was met with the snoring figure of my husband in the dark. … Hang on, who on earth was that in my daughter’s room?!

I rushed back and peered inside again: Definitely male, slightly stocky, dressed in street clothes. Our son? No, too short. I flipped the light on to behold a young Japanese guy I had never laid eyes on before.

Now, I kind of think that if this was anywhere else but Japan, I would have undoubtedly been dialing the police well before this reveal, but rather than feeling scared, my emotions were a mixture of anger, indignation and disbelief.

Anta ittai dare?!” I yelled, “Who the heck are you?!” I shouted this several times in an increasingly hysterical tone but the guy slept on, oblivious to the foreign woman berating him.

I raced to our bedroom and roused my astonished husband, and then we confronted our Goldilocks together. After he had woken up properly, our visitor explained that he was a university student. He had been out for drinks after studying for exams with a friend in the area, but he couldn’t remember anything after they parted company at the station near our place. He had no recollection of entering our house.

He apologized repeatedly and readily acquiesced to my demands to show us his student ID and the contents of his bag. The lad was a third-year student at a Tokyo University, living a few stations farther up the line with his parents. He continued to apologize and stood meekly by while my husband and I debated how to handle things. In fact, he seemed like a pleasant enough guy — who had just drunkenly entered some random house.

At this point, my anger had abated but I said we should photograph his ID and call his parents. However, to my surprise, my husband was inclined to be more lenient. Once we had established that the kid really had no clue about what happened, my husband told him to get off home. As we saw him to the front door, there were his black, pointy shoes in the genkan (entrance). Inebriated though he was, he had automatically removed his footwear like any true Japanese house guest.

Gazing at our stairs, he remarked that our house was almost identical in layout to his family’s home, and that his own bedroom was in the same location as our older daughter’s. We live at the end of a small residential cul-de-sac, so it was plausible that he had wandered along the streets till he could go no further, ending up at our unlocked front door. Our living room and kitchen are separate from the entrance, which was why nobody heard or saw him. It was very likely that he entered after my husband went up to bed. With a final apology and a polite bow, he bid us good night.

Discussing the incident with friends afterward, many said we had let our visitor get off too easily. I think it was just a lucky combination of things (for him): Being the exact same age as our daughter, we could view things from a parents’ perspective, and university students are generally afforded a degree of leniency for their (mis)adventures with alcohol. Certainly, things would have ended differently if we had been a elderly couple who felt physically threatened by his presence, or if I had been home alone, or if either of our daughters had been in the house.

Extraordinary as that night was, other people have shared similar incidents with me since. The interlopers are always male and generally alcohol is involved, although sometimes the visitors are elderly and suffering from dementia. We have not seen hide nor hair from our Goldilocks since then. I just hope he learned a lesson about staying within his limits for alcohol.

As for me, I now always lock my door when I’m home! Japan might be a safe country, but one unexpected visitor was more than enough. As for the cat, his pet therapist predicts a full recovery in time.

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