Ikigai

ikigai

Ikigai is a Japanese word that refers to the intersection of your mission, passion, profession, and vocation (see below). Héctor Garcìa and Francesc Miralles investigated a village in Okinawa which has the highest number of residents over the age of 100.

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Their secrets to longevity and quality of life are useful, but the book as a whole could easily be edited down to an article. The authors travel to Japan and interview several active, healthy centenarians but all that’s shared are a few conversations and a list of quotations along with a description of 10 common qualities of these vibrant centenarians and explanations of how they implement them into their daily lives:

  1. Never retire – always participate in meaningful, helpful activities
  2. Take it slow – no need to rush which makes people stressed.
  3. Don’t eat till you’re full – stop eating when you’re 80% full or fast a day or two a week. One trick is to eat on very small plates, perhaps the size of a saucer and don’t pile food up.
  4. Keep moving through light exercise. You don’t need to do contact sports or run an marathon. Keep it simple.
  5. Surround yourself with friends. Have several relationships so if one ends, you have back up.
  6. Smile
  7. Reconnect with nature.
  8. Give thanks.
  9. Live in the moment.
  10. Follow your ikigai.

The trouble I found with the book was the meandering. I think there were 10 qualities just because ten is a round number. In addition to information about ikigai, there’s a lot of fluff about yoga, tai chi, Csikszentmihalyi’s flow. They also add paragraphs that should have been deleted about their trip from the airport and such banalities. The ideas about flow, tai chi, etc. were from the authors and not from the Japanese elders.

I’d hoped that this would be like The Little Book of Hygge, but it lacked the wit and the tone of the book. I think I’d rather read such a book written by an insider. Someone from Japan would be able to add insights two outsiders couldn’t.

So this is a book to get from the library and skim. then go out and find that passion, make more friends, smile and eat till you’re just 80% full.

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Homeless in Japan

The creator of Life Where I’m From has put together an enlightening video series of videos on homelessness in Japan. You don’t expect to see much homelessness in Japan, but if you visit any city you’re sure to see men sleeping in subway stations or parks.

I remember bringing this up when I lived in Japan and most Japanese told me that these people just like living outdoors as it was like camping. I never quite bought that.

Nengajo

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In Japan they don’t send Christmas cards, they send New Year’s cards called nengajo. On January 1st the Japanese postal employees deliver all your cards to your house. They’ve saved each posted card for each address and work this holiday to deliver everyone’s cards.

This year is the Year of the Dog in the Chinese system. Japan celebrates New Years according to the Western calendar so January 1 is their New Year’s Day too.

I thought I’d send you my wishes with this cute nengajo.

Note: In the drawing above the dog’s head is made with an “i” and the body’s made with a “nu” in hiragana, which is one of the Japanese writing systems. Dog in Japanese is inu.

Orange

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While the story started out intriguing, Ichigo Takano’s Orange sure presents a lot of shilly shally-ing. This manga, or Japanese comic book, is about Naho, a high school student, who receives letters from her future self. The future Naho lives 10 years ahead of the present and somehow wants to advise the present Naho on how to prevent the cute new boy at school from committing suicide. Naho’s got a crush on the new boy, Kakeru, but she’s quite timid about that. Another boy, of course, has a crush on her and can see the chemistry between Naho and Kakeru.

Kakeru moved because his mother committed suicide so now he must live with his grandmother in the countryside. There’s never any mention of his father, which seemed odd. Kakeru feels responsible for his mother’s death. If he had only gone straight home after school that one day . . . The other characters have no special characteristics.

The story starts out intriguing, but Naho’s ever-present hesitation and questioning of the letters from the future make her extremely indecisive. Since the story goes for 384 pages, I expected some resolution. There wasn’t any. It ends with “to be continued.” So who knows whether Naho and her pals’ efforts changed Kakeru’s future. It doesn’t seem worth reading another 300+ pages, many of which will probably be repetitive to find out.

The art is pretty standard Japanese manga style. More creativity in the art would have helped, but I don’t think the publishing companies care.

Drunken Angel

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Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel has nothing to do with Christmas. It’s an engaging film that grabbed me with characters I didn’t expect to see in a film, Japanese or otherwise.

Have you ever seen a film where a doctor call his patients idiots? Or one where you saw the patient and punch and toss a doctor out of a bar on his hinny?

Me neither.

Till I saw Drunken Angel that is. Set in post-WWII Japan, Drunken Angel presents a Tokyo neighborhood on the edge of a smelly, dirty swamp. The city’s polluted and the society’s sick and poisoned. It’s a city where everyone shops at the black market as that’s the only store with any desirable goods. Kurosawa wants to show a society that’s gone to pot.

His hero is a doctor who’s openly alcoholic and drinks diluted medical alcohol as the real stuff’s hard to come by. Despite his drinking, the doctor is a wise, caring man, surrounded by exasperating fools. A gangster comes to his office complaining that a nail poked into his hand. When the doctor extracts it, he sees the nail is actually a bullet. During this encounter, the doctor notices that the gangster probably has tuberculosis, but the young man rebuffs his advice to get an X-ray.

The gangster runs a nightclub and fights getting the healthcare he needs every step of the way. The doctor yells at him, pesters him, and throws bottles at him. The gangster just doesn’t get it. Finally, he goes to a high class doctor and gets his X-Ray done, but does nothing about it.

If this wasn’t exasperating enough to a doctor who really cares, Miyo, his nurse, who’s usually a sensible, calming influence, starts thinking maybe, just maybe, she should go over to the jail to see the no-good older gangster whom she was involved with (I can hardly call this brute who gave her VD and then deserted her a “lover”). The older gangster just cares about money and power. He sends his thugs out to get chase her down, but the doctor protects her.

I watched this absorbing film twice. The characters, though rough and very flawed, were original and vibrant. Drunken Angel shows Japan, broken, polluted and corrupted, after the war. It’s a side I hadn’t seen and a critique of a society that’s lost its morality and except for one character its ability to tell the truth.

The Criterion Collection DVD has an illuminating commentary by Donald Richie. Listen to that if you can.

How I Miss Onsens

Unless you’ve been to a country where public baths are part of everyday life, you can only imagine how lovely it is to scrub and scrub all the dirt and probably one layer of skin off and then to soak in a big hot bath with a bunch of strangers. It’s an amazingly restorative practice and lots of fun. Afterwards you feel like you’ve washed away the problems of the world.

 

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If you’re ever in Osaka, I highly recommend you visit Spa World, an indoors hot bath entertainment center. It isn’t an onsen, which is a hot spring and has a more natural setting, such as nearby mountains or a forest, but is indoors often in urban areas. Not only do Spa World’s baths have various international themes, like France, Spain, China, India or Iran, but there are restaurants, a big room full of reclining chairs and a movie screen showing Japanese TV, and an arcade.

Note: You’re only naked in the gender segregated baths. In the entertainment center, you wear the cabana outfit they provide, i.e. matching blue shorts and a top for men and pink for women. There isn’t a more Japanese activity to be had.

Word of the Week

Kikubari, a Japanese word, means thoughtful consideration for others. It’s neat that they have one word that English needs 4 to define. I found this while flipping through Discover Japan: Words, Customs and Concepts, M. Matsumoto, ed.

To really understand the word, we need more context. Here’s a bit from Jack Halpern’s  explanation in this book:

On your layout of a Japanese home, you have no doubt noted that the lady of the house has gone to the trouble to arrange your shoes, whisk you left in the entrance hall pointing away from the door, so that they point towards the door. This is just one of many examples of that subtle, rather elusive concept of kikubari, which among others, gives Japanese culture its unique flavor.

According to the dictionary, kikubari means “vigilant attention, care.” But, as is often the case, there is a significant gap between the dictionary definition of culture-bound words and their actual applications. . . . [K]ikubari is to concern oneself, or more precisely, to go to the trouble of concerning oneself, with other people by giving thoughtful consideration to their needs and feelings

How noble. I think serendipity of seeing this word has shown me what my advent practice should be. I should try to practice kikubari as much as I can or at least once a day.