When I think about changes in Nihon since 1976 there are many that are technology-related. That happens. But there are also some that kind of blow my mind because they are such a huge cultural henka.
When I first came to Japan the word “hug”did not exist. Hugging itself did not exist. I’m going to prove it with this photo from my dictionary. See? Hug or hagu isn’t in the dictionary. The kotoba did not exist and people did not hug each other. Bodies were not touched in public in the way that hugs are done now. Imagine my shokku in 2016 when my (ex-)brother-in-law met us at the eki in his small town with a hug after not seeing me for over 30 years. That was different.
So if hagu as a word didn’t exist, how did the action of hugging get communicated? What I am trying to say here is that the concept of hugging in a friendly manner didn’t exist. Yes, there are words for a couple embracing. There is a word for picking up a child and holding it. But I can’t think of a word that equates to hugging as a friendly aisatsu.
So, I tried to research how this word ended up in Japan and when. I failed. (I didn’t try very hard and I should really ask a sensei of linguistics.) But what I did find was a premise that soccer brought hagu to Japan! When foreign soccer matches became popular television viewing, Japanese people would see players hug after successful matches or when scoring. And… that needed a word apparently. The other theory is that Americans would be seen hugging on the streets of Tokyo and that kind of culture gradually became popular amongst trend-setting young people.
I never once hugged anyone in my host family. And when I left Japan the first time and my boyfriend accompanied me to the kūko, we did not hug goodbye. It just was not done in public. And in 1988 when we moved to America and my ex-husband’s family saw us off at the airport, again, nobody hugged. We bowed. And cried. But, no hugs.
It’s probably a nice change for skinship’s sake! Sukinshippu? Oh, that’s a whole other post!
- Nihon – 日本 Japan
- henka – 変化 change, [noun]
- hagu – ハグ hug
- kotoba – 言葉 word or phrase
- shokku – ショック shock, as in big surprise
- eki – 駅 train station
- aisatsu – 挨拶 greeting(s)
- sensei – 先生 teacher or professor or doctor etc.
- kūko – 空港 airport
- Sukinshippu – スキンシップ A pseudo-Anglicism describing a close relationship like the one between mother and child. Or the act of getting closer by hanging out together. When I first heard this term and told people it didn’t exist in English they were shocked… simply shocked. Then what do you call it, they asked? Good question.