Today I was walking across Akihabara station when a man approached me. This is quite rare in Japan and even more so in Tokyo, mostly because of two reasons: 1. Japanese people's English is not too brililant, and they have a right complex about that, so they're afraid to approach foreigners. And 2. this is Tokyo, a big impersonal city where everyone leaves everyone else alone.
The other valid reason for which Japanese people have approached me in the past, bless their souls, is because they think I am lost or require help. This has happened to me a couple of times in the past so I assumed that this guy wanted to help me. His initial question - "Where are you going?" - suggested that he wanted to help me find the right train.
I answered in English (seeing as the other big reason a few brave Japanese people approach foreigners is to practice their English): "I'm not going anywhere. I'm waiting here for a friend". So far so normal. But then he did a heel face turn and asked me, once again in broken English: "Can you help me"? I was a bit surprised at this, and before I could give him answer he said "I need 300 dollars. Give me 300 dollars".
My automatic reply system kicked in before I could give him a snarky reply: "No, I don't think I can help you". Then he said nothing and walked away, looking for the next foreigner to assault.
Honestly, I am shocked. Shocked. I have been to Akiba countless times before and nobody's ever approached me to beg for money. I've been to other, more foreigner-rich areas of Tokyo (Roppongi, Shinjuku) and nobody's ever approached me. <bias>If anything, I'd have expected another foreigner to come beg for money, but not a Japanese person</bias>.
Is this perhaps a sign that the Japanese are finally mastering their English? Surely when beggars start to speak it, that's a great linguistic victory.
And a great defeat for society.