Three things we can learn about living well from Japan

I’m by no means an expert, I’ve only had one trip to Japan, but it was enough to leave a lasting impression on me. Observing the culture, even briefly, gave me ideas on how to live with more consideration at home. There were three things in particular that stayed with me long after my plane landed back in Perth.

Zen Garden, KyotoPour over coffee at Wife and Husband im Kyoto

To quiet your mind, keep your hands busy

I spent an afternoon exploring just a few of Kyoto’s 1500 temples, many of them home to beautifully curated gardens created by artisans and zen monks. I noticed there weren’t many benches. I assumed there would be lots of spots to sit and take in the natural beauty. My guide explained, “the monks wouldn’t sit still and look out at the garden. They’d practise mindfulness by doing mundane tasks like picking up the leaves, or trimming the branches – there’s meditation in movement”. Traditional meditation – sitting still, trying to quiet the noise in our chattering mind – can be such a challenge. For me, the most powerful way to quiet my mind is when I’m doing something peaceful and repetitive. It’s the way I feel when I’m making pottery. When my hands are busy in the clay, my mind is quiet. I get a deep sense of calm from the motion of making a bowl. It’s this experience that I offer students in my mindful making workshops. Before visiting Japan, I'd see housework as such a bore, something bothersome that I had to get through. Now I see things like weeding the garden, chopping vegetables for dinner, or washing the dishes as opportunities to enjoy the mindfulness that comes with busy hands.

Kyoto Zen garden

Take pleasure in the simple things.

I didn't see any rubbish bins on the streets in Kyoto – they aren’t needed because most people aren’t eating on the go. I didn’t see any of the locals with a takeaway coffee or snack. It got me thinking about how we sacrifice moments of connection and beauty for the sake of convenience. We grab our coffee to go and drink it in the car on the way to work. There’s not much joy to be had in that compared to enjoying it slowly, over a conversation with a friend.

Even on the busiest, toughest days, if we can pause to appreciate these little moments it adds up to an overall feeling of contentment. If we’re too busy to notice the beauty in little moments throughout the day, we’re robbing ourselves.

Each day is like a path strewn with many little jewels, the small, ordinary, beautiful experiences of life – Rick Hanson

Everything ends, and that's OK

There’s a concept in Japan called Mono No Aware. Clumsily translated it means an awareness of the sadness of things and accepting of the inevitability of change. It’s the feeling of being a little sad when something is over but to have acceptance and comfort in the knowledge that it is as it should be. I was in Japan as the last of the sakura (cherry blossom) were falling from the trees. The fleeting beauty of the sakura transforms Kyoto into an explosion of colour for three short weeks and then it’s all over for another year. To accept the season we’re in, isn’t always easy but I’m learning to become more comfortable with the understanding that nothing lasts. I’ve had moments when I look at my children and my heart aches at how fast they’re growing. I used to make false bargains with the universe begging time to slow down a fraction. Now I’m letting myself be OK with the feeling of melancholy when things are over. It makes me appreciate the season when I’m in it. My eldest boy is almost as tall as me and soon my little one will be too big for me to give him ‘up-cuddles’ where I scoop him up in my arms and he wraps his legs around my waist. It’s sad to know that when they grow out of a phase, I’ll never experience it with them again. But it’s OK, because I understand, it’s the natural way of things and I treasure the time while I have it.

Minimalist decor, in a Kyoto inn

Zen garden in Kyoto