Visiting Japan is a truly immersive experience that goes beyond the ordinary. From the moment you step into this captivating country, your senses are awakened and your mind is ignited by a myriad of experiences. It is a place where I genuinely felt welcome and yet, as an introvert, comfortably left alone to engage on my own terms and immerse myself into the rich Japanese culture.
My journey through Japan was a whirlwind of awe and wonder. Japanese culture is rich and diverse and one may need more time than I had to really dig deeper and understand it. The country is filled with a number of hidden treasures, just below the surface. Some of these treasures, were slightly uncovered as my journey progressed and brought up a number of valuable lessons and thought provoking questions. Here, I aim to share some the insights and thoughts I had from my time in Japan, offering you a glimpse into the rich tapestry of experiences offered by the ‘Land of the Rising Sun’.
There is such a rich culture of respect, from the way people engage with those around them, whether it is family, friends, colleagues or strangers. One can feel seen and safe when they know that they are unlikely to be disrespected by the people they encounter. It was interesting to learn that although religion is an important part of Japanese culture, one’s practice is considered a matter of personal choice. This made me think a lot about how much better our world would be if we lived in harmony with different people, in spite of the different races, beliefs or backgrounds.
2.Respecting your environment
One cannot write a post about lessons from Japan without speaking about how clean the country is. People have to carry around bags, and take their rubbish home as there are hardly any public bins. Whether this is a public space or your home– respect it and keep it clean. Also realised how distracting dirty spaces can be, which can actually take away from enjoying the environment altogether.
3.No one or nothing is perfect
In a world where perfection often takes the spotlight, it is easy to forget that beneath the surface of any place or individual, there are inherent imperfections. Some of these imperfections arise from price that had to be paid in the pursuit of excellence, which may give the perception of perfection. When you give time and attention to anything, it means that time and attention is not assigned to something else.
4.Questioning the deconstruction of body image.
How did we, as a society, come to sexualise the human body as we do now? I asked myself this question when I visited the onsens – natural hotsprings, near public baths or accommodation, that are mainly experienced in the nude. The first time I walked into one of these it felt awkward, thankfully the one I went to had a demarcation between males and females or else I may have completely opted out. The awkwardness slowly faded as I observed people casually walking, sitting, conversing and swimming. If we think about it, many cultures around the world did not cover up their bodies in the way we do now and there are some who still don’t. This raises questions for me around why we now have so much shame associated with our nakedness or revealing parts of our bodies. Albeit, this is part of a bigger conversation.
5.Ikigai: Finding Purpose
This is a concept in Japan that refers to finding something that gives your life meaning. Once found, ensure you find ways to consistently live in purpose. It is believed that living in purpose helps people avoid social isolation and brings joy. This may also come about because it is something that keeps one engaged, focused, and satisfied which may overall result in a better quality of life. When engaging with different older people, it seemed many had clarity on what their purpose was, and why it was important.
6.There is beauty in the art of mastery
From tea masters and sushi artisans to martial arts experts and the enigmatic geishas, the Japanese dedicate years of practice to reach the pinnacle of their craft and be considered ‘masters’. Watching the masters gracefully execute their skill, with precision and flow is admirable. It really is a testament to the value of patience and dedication in mastery.
7.Importance of preserving cultural traditions
Cultural traditions are the threads that connect people to their ancestry and the values held by their forebearers. Although modernisation often threatens to override many traditions, it is important to find ways of preserving them so future generations may understand the richness of their culture. It is helpful to create ways to make these traditions accessible to those that want to continue them or to learn about them. I found the museums and the classes/courses available to be such a good way of learning about some of the Japanese traditions.
8.There is always a cost to progress
Japan is one of the leading nations when it comes to technological development. However, the nation’s focus towards technological growth and development comes at a price. It really stood out to me that some of the traditions that were so prevalent and honourable in Japanese culture such as the training of the geishas, tea making ceremonies and craft artisan work have declined significantly in participation. Higher paying professions and a faster lifestyles have enticed people away from these once prevalent practices. It is a stark reminder that every step forward often requires leaving something behind.
9.Creating or moving to an environment that helps you thrive
Considering the size of Japan and the different regions, it was interesting to note the different sub-cultures within the country from the big cities, the country towns to the island towns. When speaking to different people across the country, I discovered that there were many who had moved to a different part of the country as it provided more of the lifestyle they desired. In addition, due to the small size of accommodation, people had limited space and therefore had to be very mindful about only having things that brought enhanced utility, joy or peace.
10.Creating moments of serenity
Japan has so many things that encourage one to slow down and take in their surroundings. It seemed that they have cultivated a lifestyle that made many of them look as if they were floating through life. Not sure if that is attributed to the many mindfulness practices and meditation that is richly observed in Japan. I found the zen gardens, green spaces and artistic creations scattered across the different cities particularly breath taking. The environment really encouraged me to pause and breathe, which generally seemed to keep my mood mellow and my body relaxed.
Overall, Japan definitely forced me to pause and observe what was going on – both internally and externally. It provides a unique way to consider engagement with the people around us, and our environment. The rich culture definitely also triggered me to think about the intricacies of how we consider changes in culture, finding our purpose and finding ways to create moments and environments that encourage us to thrive. The country has so much to offer – I challenge anyone visiting not to find themselves in a moment of reflection as they enjoy and immerse themselves in the amalgamation of a country that has a rich culture of mindfulness, growth, development and creativity.
Comment below to share which of the lessons above resonated with you the most? Or if you have been to Japan – are there any other lessons or thoughts that came to mind?