The free hug boom that swept the world nearly a decade ago also made it to Japan. Though only on shaky legs, it seems.

In case you don’t remember or somehow missed it, the idea was that people would stand around in public areas holding signs that read, simply enough, “Free Hugs.” If interested, anyone was welcome to step forward for a warm embrace. Ostensibly, it was an attempt to spread love and peace, and it did seem to bring a lot of smiles to a lot of people. Overall, a net positive.

Though the movement seems mostly to have quieted, one Japanese writer in Tokyo has described his recent experience meeting some Japanese Free-Huggers.

The writer starts by positing that the general unwillingness of Japanese people to engage in physical contact is one barrier to wide-spread free-huggery in Japan. (Particularly with unknown people.) Obviously, many people all over the world are hesitant to let an loitering stranger embrace them, but that tendency certainly seems far stronger in Japan.

The writer notes that when randomly coming across some Japanese Free-Huggers, he felt nervous, but decided he couldn’t let the chance pass him by. “There was no resistance when I went to hug them, but it was difficult to stand the embarrassment of being stared at by passing pedestrians,” he explained.

Afterwards, the writer asked the Free-Huggers to explain their goals, to which he got the answer “because we want to feel warmth.” They further explained that their free hugging started in Tokyo shortly after the 2011 Tohouku earthquake and resulting tsunami, and that it was particularly popular during the Christmas period. During the year-end holidays, they found that people tended to be in higher spirits and more receptive to the random embrace. (Not so much on dreary weekdays where business people are scurrying from home to work to home.)

Another issue is that of the signs. “Free Hugs” written in English probably isn’t going to garner you much participation, even in Tokyo. The idea was difficult enough for native speakers to understand. Apparently some Japanese Free Huggers have started to rewrite the signs in Japanese… though there’s also the issue of “free.” The author suggested that many people in Japan would regard “free” with suspicion and wonder what the hugger really wanted.

Despite the issues highlighted by the author of the piece, there have been a number of Free Hug events throughout Japan. Maybe Free Hugging isn’t quite as scary to Japanese people as it might seem? Here’s one good example: after a bit digging online, we found out that a local Kyushu TV show in Fukuoka had organized a free hug “event” of its very own.  They got such a good response that they had follow ups in subsequent years.

Here’s a video of their first attempt in 2010.

Huh. We can’t stop smiling now…

Source: Byoukan Sunday, YouTube