Kyōto-shi, Kyōto-fu, Japan

September 25, 2016

Welcome to Japan

Welcome to Kyoto, Japan!

I arrived with a typhoon, and though my glimpses of the country have been fleeting thus far, it’s everything I’d hoped (Japan is the one place on earth I’ve always wanted to go most), and more.

Early morning walks through the a sleepy temple’s grounds. Getting lost (and soaked) wandering a mountainside forest. Starting to unfold Japan’s renowned food scene (first experience: Okonomiyaki in a tiny, wonderful restaurant.) :)

But in waiting out the rain and wind, mostly I’ve been reading, in the particular way it turns out I read.

While living in France, I read the surprisingly good (and surprisingly relevant) French Women for All Seasons, as well as Hemingway’s Parisian novels, Woolf, Gertrude Stein — works in English that I’d known about, but never got around to reading until I was in their birthplace and they stood, insistent.

Here, I’ve started off with Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and it is wonderful.

She lays out a philosophy of interacting with all the things in our lives, and a clear and effective path to having less stuff - only those things which you really love.

A lot of it resonated with the journey I’ve been on, both in my initial selling/giving away of a three-bedroom’s home worth of stuff, and in the ongoing gain-and-prune of the 20kg life I live out here on the road.

But tucked away in her book was a key to getting rid of things that I’d missed that was so obvious and transformational that I was stunned I’d never consciously thought it through.

Say thank you to the things you leave behind for playing their part in your life.

Some things, she notes - quite like some people - are only in our lives for us to learn that they and things like them aren’t a good fit for us. That’s perfectly normal, and ok - and it means in letting them go, we can simply thank them for teaching us that lesson.

One aspect of Japanese culture that’s resonated with me since I discovered it as a kid are the underlying currents of animism.

See, my world might be a little bit different than yours. In mine, everything is alive. That table. The rug. The bed. The curtains. The window. The dish soap. The pen. They’re living the just the same as you or I, albeit with very differently functioning forms. My world has always been this way, for as long as I can remember.

And here in Japan, both through Marie Kondo’s words and through the shinto shrines that dot the hillsides around me, I find roots that connect me. That say you’re not the only one and here are the things we’ve learned about living in such a world.

One where you can treat the objects that come into your life with joy and curiosity as they arrive, and respect and gratitude as they move on to the next part of their journey without you.

In America, where I come from, there’s a deep sense that “from” and “away” are magical bits of ether. Things “begin” at the store, and “end” at the curbside trash bin. But it’s not true. Every single thing in our lives - every thing we can see right now - started its journey well before it met us, and it will keep on going well after it’s left our lives.

All of us, in our ways, just passing through. With some luck, beginning with joy and curiosity, and leaving with gratitude.

Have a wonderful week.

-Steven

p.s. The best thing I read this week is the best thing I’ve read in a very long time. It’s by The Oatmeal, and it’s about happiness.

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