Tuesday, May 08, 2007


FREE HUGS IN MOBGROG


On my way to work a couple of weeks ago I'd been astonished to see a pair of attractive young Asian women standing beside a wide rush hour sidewalk outside of Osaka's busy Umeda Station, holding handwritten signs that said: "Free Hugs!" (in English!) I remembered reading about a 'Juan Mann' in Sydney, who had been offering Free Hugs to passersby, but that was a guy. In Australia. These were women. In Japan.

I doubted if very many Japanese had heard of the hugger guy, let alone really understood the Free Hug action (and the English sign) for what it was in the Western sense, because Japanese only touch strangers (other than illicitly) in random rush-hour commuter collisions. I remember thinking these young ladies were going to have few takers here. A hug in Japan is not the same as a hug in Australia.

The Japanese don't hug, they bow. I've hugged my own kids of course, so they're used to hugging, but never my in-laws (does anyone?) or in-law relations. I can't imagine ever hugging any of my Japanese acquaintances; they would be shocked! So I figured maybe those two women were inspired by the Free Hugs guy, but would soon give up when they had stood for days without a request for a hug. I couldn't picture any of these workaday commuters, in their hurries to and from the office, going up to the women in public, right there for everyone to see, and asking for a hug; that was admitting an emotional need of some sort, and whoever did it would be the focus of all eyes, maybe even get photographed...

This morning, still groggy from the long Golden Week vacation luxury of freely doing whatever I want around the house and environs at my own pace, and the same each day for days on end, without having to readjust my crowd/time/noise/space psychoparameters in preparation for trips into the big city, it was therefore in a state of mobgrog that I was amazed to again behold the Free Hugs women standing with their Free Hug signs. Had they managed to hug somebody in public? Neither one was hugging anybody at the moment, but one of them was speaking at length to a guy who was at least enjoying a spontaneous chat with an attractive woman stranger right there on the street, which in Japan can be as good as a hug in Sydney.

The Japanese are still not even comfortable shaking hands. They do so perforce with foreigners, but rarely with each other. So I still can't imagine staid Japanese businessmen requesting a free hug from these women (even married couples don't hug in public!). But these two dauntless young women at least augur nice changes, however many hugs they manage to give out. Whether passersby get a free hug or not, they're at least starting to think about "hugs" and hugging and all that that might mean, however culturally different it is.

Another emotionseed closer to the eden of really caring for one another.

10 comments:

Tabor said...

My young adult children have introduced me to the hugging of good friends, etc. I like the gesture. I also like bowing the had.

Tabor said...

Ooops. Head.

Dalene said...

And years and years from now in Japan hugging will be accepted as normal and few if any will remember a time when it wasn't or the two attractive girls that stood on the corner in May 2007 with their Free Hug sign. The smallest act exponentially reaching a critical mass that transforms who we are to who we become.

Thank you for this most hopeful and magical story. I wonder about the beginning moment of the many things we do or know how to do but do not think about doing -- it is all so standard and given, and somehow I see the two bright spirits and their Free Hug sign as the beginning of something grand. Dalene

Trace said...

Most lovely.

Pam said...

Are you (not) saying that you didn't go get a hug?!

Bob Brady said...

As a multiple grandfather, I suffer no deficiency of hugs. I leave the free hugs to those less huggily fortunate than myself.

Joy Des Jardins said...

Well, being a very hugging person myself...I'm all for it. I say, Go for it ladies, even if the non-huggers outweigh the huggers. Maybe that will change in time. I'm sure they're still there because they're counting on that.

Chancy said...

Robert, I love hugs, both giving and getting.

I was wondering the same thing as Pam, if you partook of the free hugs. I too am blessed with multiple grand children who are most generous with their hugs.

Perhaps I am blessed with huggers since one spelling of our last name is huggins....;)

Paul said...

I like hugs no matter where I am !

Anonymous said...

i like hugs only from closest people. from strangers...not so much. but my american relatives ALWAYS hug everyone. i don't mind, but my little brother literally runs screaming, he is 8. i and they, too think it's funny and noone was offended. we love them a lot, but all this hugging seems still strange :)