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Published: July 10th 2017
Just a few short notes from the city formerly known as Edo: Free Hugs
As I came out of the subway at Shibuya, I saw this couple with a hand-drawn sign that said “Free Hugs.”
Now, Shibuya Station is huge, with three metro lines and two train lines all converging here. Above ground is the famous (or infamous) “Shibuya Scramble” a pedestrian street crossing reputed to be the busiest crossing in the world.
I watched them for a while, and they really were hugging people. Not asking for money, not trying to get anyone to sign a petition, just giving free hugs.
Intrigued, I went and asked them about their sign. Turned out the young man was Japanese, and all his life he had been very shy. He was determined to fix this, and he figured the best way to do so would be to go to the most public place in Tokyo and interact with as many people as possible. The woman was an American. She saw him with his sign, and after getting her hug, decided to just hang out with him for a while. They were having a grand time, and
a lot of people walked away smiling. Ali and Oskar
One of the things that struck me as unusual in Tokyo was the number of kebab shops I came across. I had eaten in one that, while tiny, was quite good, near Senso-ji Temple. One morning I I was at the Ameyoko street market, which is full of small stalls selling all manner of food, clothes, shoes, you name it. I was starting to look around for some place to eat when I came across Ali and Oskar. It wasn’t noon yet, and they weren’t busy, so I sat and talked with Ali for a bit (Oskar stood in front of the stall to drum up business.)
Both of them were originally from Turkey. Ali moved to France to be with his girlfriend. He then moved to San Francisco – he proudly showed me his California driver’s license. He had just broken up with his girlfriend when his friend Oskar called him and asked him to come to Tokyo and help him open a Turkish restaurant.
The stand advertised halal food, and the counter displayed pamphlets listing the halal restaurants in the city, along
with the location of the mosques. I asked him it were difficult being Muslim in Tokyo, and he answered “not a bit.” In fact, serving halal food seemed to be a selling point, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
In case you’re wondering, Ali speaks Turkish, French, and English fluently, Japanese almost fluently, and a smattering of Chinese. Look Up, Look Down
There are a lot of interesting things in this city that aren’t at street level. There is the gorilla hanging off the side of a building just down the street from the Samurai Museum in Shinjuku. Then there is the Godzilla head that peers over the edge of the Hotel Gracery in the Kabukichio section of Shinjuku. (Sadly, I missed this sight.) And of course, there are huge LED screens advertising all manner of things.
Below street level there are huge shopping arcades connected to subway stations. The underground portion of Shinjuku Station is a little over three quarters of a mile from end to end, not counting the side tunnels. Almost all of it is lined with shops.
One of my new favorite restaurants is a tiny curry stall located under
Godzilla at the Hotel Gracery
image from Shinjukustation.com
Kinokuniya Books. It’s only 16 stools, the menu is posted on the wall (with pictures!) and most of its patrons are workers from the near-by office buildings. I’ve already told you about the food halls located in the basement of many department stores, but it’s worth mentioning again.
There is a lot of cool stuff right in front of you that you might miss if you don’t look up.
Shibuya Scramble on YouTube
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