Hugging Japan

In 2001 I flew to Japan for a 3 day orientation program for about 150 teenagers aged 16 to 18, who were about to study for a high school year abroad in either Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Canada or the UK. My role was to help prepare them for differences and especially the initial culture shock of arriving in a foreign land away from their family, friends and familiar life for a whole year. During this orientation, the Japanese program director described what to expect on arrival at the airport. She explained that the students should collect their luggage and walk through the gates, and then they would probably see a family or group of people holding a sign with their name on it.

“Then they will do something that maybe no one has ever done before” she smiled. “They will hold out their arms like this. And they will come towards you”. The students all giggled, embarrassed, and looked around at their friends. Yuko continued by coming towards me with her arms outstretched, as she explained that what she was doing was a common way to welcome someone in these cultures and it is called a hug. Yuko and I had a big hug and then turned to the students.

She asked the students to ‘practice’ and hug the person next to them, and I quickly jumped up on a chair to take this photo. To this day it is one of my favourite photos ever – to see the sheer delight on the faces of these students is magical. Afterwards Yuko asked if anyone had any questions and one girl put up her hand and said “Can I please hug someone who knows how to hug?” I agreed instantly and she came running up towards me and I swung her around in a big bear hug to the sound of a room full of cheers and laughter.

Hugging is brilliant. Well done Guerrilla Hugs for bringing a nice big warm friendly bit of human touch into our lives!

Therese