tokyo metro subway worker and flower

If you’re sad that December is coming to a close and aren’t quite ready to stop basking in the holiday spirit, here’s a story (albeit a non-Christmas one) from the heart of Tokyo that’s sure to give you the warm fuzzies. Originally made popular in English on the image-hosting site Imgur, this tale of a stranger’s unexpected act of kindness traveled back to Japan where it happened, thanks to the Internet, and subsequently brought smiles to scads of Japanese netizens’ faces.

Read their reactions at the end of the article, after learning about how Lee Mingwei’s participatory art installation and 22-year-old Alice’s seemingly small yet impactful act of courage brightened the day of a metro worker named Daisuke and reddened his ears. As one online commenter put it, “I bet this guy never imagined that his smile would spread joy all around the world!”

▼ Meet Alice, a design student from Paris who has been living in Tokyo for the past three months for an internship.

Alice in paris

The story began when Alice visited the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi Hills, Tokyo, where Taiwanese, New York-based artist Lee Mingwei’s mid-career retrospective is being held. His work often calls upon the participation of visitors, “where strangers can explore issues of trust, intimacy, and self-awareness”, as well as reexamine simple everyday actions and become more aware of the present.

Mori art museum

The Moving Garden was originally created for the Lyon Biennial in 2009, a piece influenced by the philosophy and ritual of gift-giving and receiving. Viewers were invited to pick one of the fresh gerberas from the installation, if they would agree to “make a detour from their intended route when leaving the museum,” and then “give the flower to a stranger who they felt would benefit from this unexpected act of generosity.”

▼ A view of the installation.

view of The Moving Garden by Lee Mingwei, Mori Art Museum, Roppongi, Tokyo

▼ In her original post, Alice shares with us in charming English, “In Paris, I never would have dared doing it but you know, Tokyo is Tokyo. I picked a flower.”

Alice and gerbera flower, The Moving Garden, Lee Mingwei

▼ Picked flowers were thoughtfully given a bag with gel to prevent drying and wilting.

Alice and gerbera flower, The Moving Garden, Lee Mingwei

▼ Though she took a flower, she writes that she was “too shy to give it to anyone” and was heading for the subway to go home.

Alice and gerbera flower, The Moving Garden, Lee Mingwei, Tokyo Metro subway

This was when she spotted a metro worker who looked tired and seemed to be in a bad mood. “These guys are so dynamic doing their work,” and indeed many foreign visitors often are surprised by their politeness, helpfulness, and energy, not to mention their sharp uniforms. So, she plucked up the courage to give him the flower and though neither spoke the other’s language well enough to exchange words, she could tell that Daisuke-san (which was written on his badge) was “surprised and happy.”

▼ Sure enough, he must have been caught off guard by this unexpected gesture but his beaming expression says it all. Nice smile!

Daisuke Tokyo Metro subway worker, with gerbera flower, Alice, Lee Mingwei, The Moving Garden art installation

Alice goes on to say that though the crowd was just as confused by this mysterious incident, she was happy “this museum gave [her] the opportunity to make a Japanese smile.” And we’re just as glad that she took the time to snap his photo and share this story, right? This must have been just the sort of connection Lee Mingwei envisioned while creating his installation.

Much of the online commenters in Japan relate the joy this anecdote gave them, while others reflect on their views regarding interactions with strangers. Some of them include: 

“Great story, I’d love to see this done in different countries and learn how people react.

“I’m happy for you, Daisuke-san! His smile is the true gift here.”

“Metro workers deal with a lot of crap from thankless passengers; Japan really takes these people for granted.”

“Definitely his angel for the day.”

“I’m not sure if I’d have the nerve to do the same if I went to this exhibit.”

“I wish I could be friendly with strangers like this all the time. I guess that means trying to proactively connect with others.”

“Yeah, it’s not the thought but the actual action that can spread happiness around.”

“I actually went to the same exhibit and gave a flower to a metro worker. My hat broke and when I asked if he had a safety-pin, he took the time to go and look for one!”

“Flowers are nice but words are too! Something to make a stranger smile.”

“The artist deserves more praise as well!”

“If I received that during work I think it’d just be in the way. I must be twisted…”

“Our society tends to make us wary of strangers unfortunately. I bet deep down everyone wants to be free enough to do this sort of thing regularly.”

So if you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, perhaps this story can give you some hints! I’m sure the players in this tale would feel honored if they knew that their actions inspired others to spread a little kindness.

Sources: Karapaia, imgur, Lee Mingwei
Images: imgur