Oh, Japan! Never could I have imagined the impact that a short trip to accompany my husband on a business trip to Japan in the 1980’s would have on my life. The impact was profound and has continued to influence my life in ways small and large.
Suddenly I was presented with a very different way to see and be in the world. It was as if I’d fallen down the rabbit hole into a fascinating new world that I had no idea existed. I found an ancient culture that revered its traditions as it continued to innovate creatively. I found people who appeared always to be generous and polite. I found an attention to detail that captivated me. I found a culture that revered nature (most of the time). I found stark contrasts between old and new, the sacred and the profane. Juxtapositions exist everywhere. It was stimulating and inspirational. It got my attention. In a week’s time, I quickly became obsessed with all things Japanese. It was clearly a case of love at first sight. In the ensuing years, I’ve come back to Japan many times. I now live part time in Kyoto. It’s become my Source.
My obsession can puzzle those who’ve never been to Japan. I do my best to explain it with the following examples.
Omotenashi (Japanese hospitality). Japanese thoughtfulness to strangers knows no bounds. It has made me nicer too!
Visual Intoxication. The simple action of strolling through the controlled chaos of a covered arcade of small stores presents undreamed of items to investigate. It all fascinated me, before I became more discriminating. I learned the word kawaii. I became a child again. So many baubles, colors, distractions and wind-up toys. You could have put me in a playpen.
The Japanese Food Culture. Practised, polished, refined, seasonal. As good as it gets, be it soba, udon, ramen, sushi, cakes, tea or kaiseki. Have you tried the tofu?
Riding the trains. Who knew or suspected that train travel could be so effortless and enjoyable? Bento box options for lunch? Precise on-time arrivals and departures? Clean and interesting stations where one could easily linger, eat a fine breakfast, find a regional souvenir, and people watch. Masses of moving people.
Love of Nature. Seasonality. The realization that fruit is best eaten and appreciated during the season for which it originally was harvested tells me that this is a culture that’s thought it through! The Japanese reverence for seasonal celebration is unlike anything I’ve experienced at home. A small shop window in Kyoto often perfectly captures the essence of a season.
No matter how many times I visit Japan, I am grateful for the opportunity. I return home refreshed, inspired, grounded and nicer.