Walking through Tokyo’s Shinjuku district on a chilly Sunday night, I was again astounded at how busy the place is. Sunday night it might be, yet the horrors of Monday morning notwithstanding, the streets of Tokyo’s busiest shopping and entertainment district are thronged with crowds numerous and noisy enough to put most cities’ Saturday nights to shame.
Living in Tokyo, it is easy to think you’ve seen it all. What a doubly pleasant surprise, then, to see a nice, well-dressed young man – no ponytail or unshavenness, and not a trace of tie-dye - holding up a sign that, on one side in English, and on the other side in Japanese, proclaimed ‘Free Hugs’.
I approached him to ask if I could take a photo, and quickly got engaged with him regarding what he was doing. It so turned out that his labor of love is thanks to the internet: YouTube to be specific – which is where he got the idea from.
In Japan where touching anyone is very rare (even the handshake is reserved only for foreigners), people lining up on the street for free hugs is difficult to imagine. When I put it to him he said that he was there more to spread the idea of intimacy and togetherness than to actually execute it - a kind of street performance. Although, of course, he showed not the slightest resistance when I claimed my free hug. All of a sudden it felt like summer!
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Monday, January 15, 2007
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