The Japanese seem to know how to lead a relaxed and creative life. Many meditative arts are connected with Japan, including origami ( the art of folding paper) and bonsai (the practice of growing tiny, living trees). Another Japanese creative therapy is ikebana (flower arranging or giving life to flowers).
For the Japanese, bathing represents much more than just cleaning. For thousands of years, people have visited onsens (natural hot springs) to find tranquillity and restoration. Onsens are the natural hot springs in Japan and a big part of Japanese culture. They are popular throughout East Asia, but each country has their own take on them. The public bath is most often divided into two sections, male and female, and neither can see the other. There is generally no point in which males and females hang out together (unlike in Korea and China where you often get a recreational room space after the bathing area) unless you have a private onsen.
Forest bathing also known as shinrin-yoke, is also popular in the West which involves spending time among trees and taking in the surroundings of the forest. It has been proven to lower your stress levels and promote feelings of calm. The name for this shinrin-yoke, simply means a walk through a forest or woodland, take in your surroundings and breathe slowly and deeply, and allow calm to settle all around you. Forest bathing, the Japanese method of meditating in nature, is prescribed by doctors for its health-boosting qualities. The concept was originally conceived in the eighties, as a way to combat the stress caused by busy urban lives, largely spent indoors. Forest bathing was a way to reconnect with the natural world and has since been prescribed by Japanese doctors for its health benefits.
Another way they find a sense of purpose and become joyful is by using a concept called ikigai. They say that a persons ikigai gives them a sense of joy and purpose in life with many finding it to be the secret to lifelong fulfilment. To find your own you need to pay attention to what interests you and brings you joy. When translated literally, iki means “life; alive” and kai (pronounced as gai in this case) can be translated as “reason; worthiness; fruitful; effective.” According to Ikigai Living website there have been a number of translations, all of which are said to be accurate:
- reason to live
- the purpose of life
- reason for being
- the meaning of life
- reason to get up in the morning or jump out of bed
- what makes life worth living
- the thing that you live for
- happiness of being
- a raison d’etre
Another concept is wabi-sabi which means seeing beauty in imperfection or in things that show the passing of time. Appreciating these things means you are able to find joy in the present moment and can embrace change a a natural part of life. In Japan, wabi sabi is imperceptible but everywhere: a crack on a teapot, the wood of an old door, green moss on a rock, a misty landscape, a distorted cup or the reflection of the moon on a pond.
Making a home into a sanctuary seems to be top of their list and it is important that your home is a place to relax and give you both joy and peacefulness.
They suggest that to make a home a haven, create a separation between the outside and the inside world. You could simply take your shoes off at the door and put your comfy slippers on just as long as you take a pause before beginning your time at home.
In Japan, space is very precious so there homes are usually clutter free. We all know that a tidy space can boost your mood, so try decluttering your rooms. Japanese homes also tend to embrace the natural world in their decor, bringing the outside in. Houseplants are a favourite of the Japanese and natural materiels used in the decor.
A great book on the subject is ‘Be More Japan: The Art of Japanese Lving by DK Eyewitness from Amazon. From the philosophies of ikigai and wabi sabi to kitsch karaoke nights and futuristic robot restaurants; traditional tea ceremonies and tranquil onsen dwellings to cosplay culture and J-Pop megastars; Japan is full of intriguing contradictions.
Though renowned for its ultramodern capital Tokyo – a sprawling neon-lit metropolis straight from the pages of a science fiction novel – Japan is still deeply rooted in ancient tradition. And while the country runs with clockwork precision, the cultural life of the inhabitants is transformed with the changing of the seasons, a testament to the enduring power of nature’s rhythms.
With each page alive with facts, history and inspiration, Be More Japan unlocks the secrets behind modern Japanese living – whether you’re eating sushi in London or enjoying the cherry blossoms in San Francisco. And if you’re dreaming of a future trip to Japan, this book will get you closer to your destination before you’ve even departed.