The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Need a hug?

Free hugs in Harajuku

I saw a man fall off a bench at Shibuya station the other day (been trying to write this for days but due to lack of time and strange formatting on this blog I haven`t been able to publish it before.)

Anyway, as I was saying, he fell off the bench and onto the floor with quite a crash making everyone on the platform look. Usually when something like this happens it would be safe to assume the man was drunk but this time no alcoholic boost was needed for his attack of gravity, he just literally fell asleep.

Infact I don`t think I have ever seen someone that tired before. As he dragged himself up off the floor and slid himself back onto the bench his movement were those of a somnambulist. His eyes never opened and as he wobbled around the extra room the other bench occupants had surreptitiously provided him he looked about to topple again at any moment. How he managed to get onto the train he was waiting for I don`t know.

Sleeping salarymen are not an uncommon sight in Tokyo where the working hours are inhuman. Indeed travelling on the trains around this huge city is sometimes to feel as if you are in a large mobile domitory. Unlike England the trains are clean, mostly safe and, apart from the music that greats almost every door closing, pretty quiet so are probably a good place to sleep. I know I have dozed there a few times; once, after a rather unnecessary amount of red wine I woke up two stations from where I had gotton on the train but, and here was the bad thing, on the way back. The polite station staff don`t wake you up at the terminus unless it is the last train so I had been allowed to really enjoy my ninety minute sleep and round trip back to where I started. This of course meant another, desperately trying to stay awake, forty-five minute journey back to where I had wanted to go.

But I am not alone in sleeping on the trains, the whole country is lacking its requisite seven hours it appears: from late night cram school students (much too late to still be at school if you ask me) to housewives heaping their shopping bags into pillows and laying across them. But it is the male office worker slumped in the seat or hanging from the handrails with his tie askew; sweat stained shirt untucked; desheveled mop of once fashionable hair and large feet stuck out at rigor mortice like angles as he twitches his way through dreams or nightmares that is the picture perfect image of exhaustion.

This is a stressful place to live and not getting any easier. According to a government report something like 3.3 million people in Japan have some form of mental illness and that is only the ones they know about. Makes you want to give the whole country a big hug doesn`t it? So I am glad to see the the “Free Hugs” campaign is here to do just that.

Started in Australia in 2004 by Juan Mann (not his real name of course…think about it!) the idea goes that giving a hug to a total stranger will brighten their day and make them feel valued and happy.

Not sure it will catch on in Japan in any big way, this is a place that tends to avoid physical contact with strangers, or even with family members to be honest, but maybe after an hour squeezed next to a hundred or so strangers on a rush hour train, when a tired, depressed salaryman gets out of the station and sees someone like the girl above offering him a hug it is a much smaller step to go up and get get one from her. And maybe it really will make him feel better for the rest of the day if he does that and keep him from falling off the benches of this life.

Sorry for the lack of posts recently, I have been really busy.

Talk to you later.



2 responses

  1. tomo

    Hi damon. This is quite interesting for me. This let me think about Japan in reality. As you know, it is said that Japanese people are kind ,modest, dilligent,and with any possitive description. Though It could be, Now It is obiously ture of only a part of Japan;it coud be acceptable especially in outskirts. I can recognize how Japan has changed for this 30 years, and I’m feeling even I’m losing the senses which Most of the Japanese used to have.

    This is going further so, I’ll stop here.

    Let’s discuss it at next seeing.

    Take care.


    July 25, 2007 at 5:35 pm

  2. Pingback: Japan Time «

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