What Japan Taught Me About Life
Life is fragile, but beautiful, just like the cherry blossoms
Before I went to Japan I was listening to a Pico Iyer podcast about the transformative nature of travel. He spoke about the power of coming home from a trip and turning ‘seeing the sights’ into insights. Inspired by his words, I was so excited to see what I could learn in Tokyo, the world’s largest urban metropolis and home to over 38 million people.
To put it simply, Tokyo is the most mind-blowing place I have ever been. It truly is a city that never sleeps, and for the week that we were there, I didn’t want to either. In fact, there’s so much to see and do, that it feels like a lifetime of exploring would never uncover all that’s on offer. It’s also a bright, buzzing lesson in living fast; just wandering around in the crowds is a massive adrenaline rush, and Monday nights are as mental as Fridays. But despite the intensity of a city so large, people are calm and quiet. It’s the most magical juxtaposition. Everything is moving at light-speed, but with such efficiency, and thoughtfulness, that it feels like a well-oiled, intuitive machine, powering a ride that you never want to get off.
And it’s not just a thrilling ride; convenience is key in Tokyo. You’ll find amazing food in the train stations as well as in the Michelin restaurants. And while you’re refuelling on those tasty treats, the realisation will hit you that every innovation you could dream of has probably already been invented, and it’s waiting for you in Tokyo. Things just flow. I can’t count the amount of times I said ‘why don’t we have this?!’ Two of my favourites were: the ledge in shops to rest your handbag on, so you don’t have to do the awkward fumble around manouevre to find your wallet, and onigiri wrappers that are woven like origami around the seaweed and rice, so that when they’re stored in the fridge, the seaweed is separate from the rice and doesn’t get soggy.
These are a few of things that Japan taught me about life;
- Busy is relative — experiencing how fast-paced Tokyo is makes other big cities seem sleepy in comparison. But people seemed zen even in the crazy crowds at rush hour. Maybe it’s a mindset to be zen even if life is going faster than our brains can process?
- Go with the flow — things happen smoothly when you don’t force them. Everyone in the streets and subways just moved with the sea of people. And they got to where they were going. In Melbourne we are pushing and moving in a million different directions, but with the same results.
- The past holds answers — ancient traditions are honoured and celebrated in Japan. Temples are shrines are equally popular with both tourists and locals and there is an amazing respect for honouring rituals from centuries ago. We can learn a lot from the past, and from the lessons of history. It pays to remember to look back, before we go forward.
- Mindful beings — people seem so accustomed to coexisting with millions of others, that they are very conscious of other people’s space and time. No-one litters, no-one raises their voice in public, and everyone is incredibly gracious and apologetic if they accidentally get in your way. The manners are impeccable and it creates such an amazing atmosphere.
- Focus on one thing, and do it well — many places have just one speciality, and absolutely ace that thing. I think we’re all becoming generalists, at the expense of really mastering something. There is something really special about devoting your life to something and sharing that devotion with the world.
- Everything and everyone has a purpose — you often hear about the Japanese concept of ikigaii, or knowing your meaning in life. It is incredible being immersed in such a purposeful culture. We are all here for a reason, and we should spend our lives working it out.
- Life is fragile, but beautiful — just like the cherry blossoms. Sakura season only lasts for a fleeting moment, and it’s a poignant, pastel reminder, that life is very short for us too. Don’t get so caught up that you forget to stop and smell the cherry blossoms.
Japan is a truly dazzling place — and with the swift elegance of a bullet train, it will change you.
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