Two Japanese strangers united by appreciation

DEEP-HEARTED THANKS::Despite their tight budgets, the men said they felt it was important to travel across Taiwan to express their gratitude for the nation’s aid

Staff writer, with CNA

Tue, Mar 18, 2014 - Page 3

Two Japanese men, who were strangers before they met on a trip to Taiwan last month, yesterday traveled together to Greater Kaohsiung as part of their journey of thanks.

Shunsuke Hagiwara, a college senior from Tokyo, and Daisuke Kaneko, a former fashion designer, both arrived in Taiwan by chance on the same flight, a month ago, to express their thanks for the nation’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami aid.

However, yesterday they joined forces at three locations in Greater Kaohsiung dressed in T-shirts printed with thank-you messages three years on from the March 11 disaster.

The two men visited the Kaohsiung City Council, the Genesis Social Welfare Foundation’s branch in Fengshan District (鳳山) and the Li-Chih Valuable School.

Hagiwara said he decided to embark on a round-Taiwan trip three years ago in the belief that people “should express their gratitude promptly and not be shy.”

Unlike friends of his age who have been job hunting, the 22-year-old said he went against his parents’ wishes to come to Taiwan, wanting to film his journey and use the footage as a reminder to his countrymen to not take the kindness of others for granted.

Hagiwara, who has been learning Mandarin and working part-time to save for the trip, wore a black T-shirt bearing the characters: “Thank you” in Japanese and “Taiwan” in Mandarin.

On the back of his T-shirt, he wrote: “Japan will never forget Taiwan’s help after the earthquake hit. I cannot do much, but I can express my gratitude.”

Since his arrival, the student has been offering free hugs from Taipei in the north to Kaohsiung in the south, hugging more than 2,000 passersby to express his thanks.

On a tight budget of NT$50,000, Hagiwara has been helped along the way by friends he made on Facebook, who have offered accommodation and help with travel.

Kaneko, 36, who traveled to Taiwan in March last year for the same purpose, returned to Taiwan last month, after quitting his job as a designer.

Kaneko arrived in Taiwan with NT$100,000 and has spent nearly NT$70,000 during his visit, but said the trip has been worth it, because he wants to convey his love and gratitude toward Taiwan .

His T-shirt credits the nation as the first to send aid, as well as donating the biggest sum and showing the most concern to Japan following the disaster.