Image by Jeremy Brooks via Flickr
A Japanese lady--a complete stranger--hugged me last night. Husband and I were out walking while our kids were in their Japanese lessons nearby, when Husband suddenly veered off course into a tiny neighborhood store that had recently opened. I'd noticed it a few weeks back and mentioned to him that we should go in sometime, as it's a big day indeed when you spot anything in Japan with the word "thrift" on it.
The funny thing about our going in on this occasion is that we couldn't buy anything. For the month of January, we are entrenched in our annual (at a minimum) Extreme Thrift Mode, which unfortunately has nothing to do with thrift-ing. Here I was, at an actual thrift store, and I couldn't buy a thing. It just seemed so wrong. Since I had no purchasing power (seriously, none--I'd left my wallet in the car), I preferred to linger outside the store, picking through the plastic miso bowls, winter coats reeking of mothballs, and other meager offerings there, but Husband called me inside. Why? To look with him at the really cool stuff we couldn't buy!
While the display of items out front was typical of the kinds of things that can be found in a small, dusty thrift shop in the U.S., the indoor portion was more like a dusty antiques store. With only a cursory, resentful glance, I saw lots of kokeshi dolls in a cabinet, a great retro framed geisha print, and loads of pottery among the jam-packed wares. Husband spotted, and asked the papa-san about, a lovely antique chest of drawers, a Sendai-dansu, which, naturally, was a good deal for that type of thing but significantly more than what most people are willing to pay in a "thrift" store. And, of course, had it been cheap-o cheap we wouldn't have bought it anyway, while in Extreme Thrift Mode. We were a tease.
But the store proprietors knew nothing of our spending prohibition, so they encouraged us, saying "expensive, demo (but)..." about several items that caught Husband's discerning eye. While I was rounding a corner and the rather large mama-san was coming directly at me, the hug occurred--a split-second, simple reaching-out with one arm--just enough to pull me close to her momentarily as we passed en route to opposite sides of the store.
Did I imagine some intended affection, or was it a mere attempt to stay steady on her feet? I can't help but feel it's the former, though my experience with hugs from Japanese non-acquaintances had previously been exactly zero.
It was time to get back to our walk. Puzzled, but somehow filled with goodwill toward this woman who dared to flout social conventions, I promised we'd come back. Maybe in February, when "Extreme Thrift" may take on a different meaning entirely.