I miss hugs.
My holiday in Chicago - a solid 10 days of reuniting with family and friends that I hadn't seen in months - included lots o' hugs. Airport pick-up hugs from mom and dad. Big bear hugs from my sister and my 6-foot-something brother-in-law. Christmas Day hugs from grandma and the family. Tipsy bar hugs from all of my crazy friends in the city. Misty-eyed airport drop-off hugs...
And, alas, I took all of those delicious embraces for granted. Now that I'm back in Japan, I realize that what I miss the most about home is the nice, warm place that is a hug - and not just because it's cold here in Fukui.
Japanese people don't hug. The Japanese equivalent of the hug is the bow. I've made the mistake of trying to hug a Japanese person before, and the result was like the limp-fish handshake. They're surprised and uncomfortable, I'm surprised and uncomfortable, and the whole thing, supposed to be warm and beautiful, is awkward and culturally inappropriate. Ugh.
But, knowing this, I stupidly still look for hugs. On my way back to Fukui earlier this week, I witnessed what looked like a family reunion at the train station. It was a moment that greeting card commercials are made of: two young boys, on board, spot their cute, tiny, wrinkled grandmother on the platform as the train pulls into the station. The boys wave enthusiastically from the train window. The grandmother flashes a huge smile and waves back - with both hands in that cute grandmotherly way. The train stops, the doors open, and the boys bound out toward grandma...
...and the whole family bows to each other.
My Western eyes were waiting for the tear-inducing, geez-grandma-its-been-years-since-we've-seen-you kind of hug, but all I got was a bow. Don't get me wrong: the scene was still adorable, and the family's love for each other was more than apparent, but it didn't seem quite complete to me without the hug.
So, yes, I miss hugs. A lot. But the Japanese propensity to bow does have its advantages.
I headed out on one of my long rice paddy runs after school yesterday. My running route criss-crosses through narrow, winding roads with country houses scattered throughout. It takes me through the kind of places where people walk out in the street without looking both ways because, well, there's nothing to look for. No traffic. No people. Nothing. Just a crazy iPod-clad gaijin girl trying to work off her rice gut.
I zipped through a tiny neighborhood and almost took out a middle-aged woman. She was walking down her tree-lined driveway, getting ready to cross into the street, and didn't see me. Because of the trees, I didn't see her. We bumped into each other.
The Chicago in me expected an angry reaction from her: some cross words in Japanese, a fist-pump, maybe The Finger.
But instead, she bowed.
And, to my surprise, I bowed back.
We smiled. I mumbled an awkward "gomenasai...sumimasen" and was back on my way.
Maybe the bow isn't so bad after all.