A lesson in curiosity from Japan

2023-05-14  Social Science

I recently returned from a couple of weeks out in Japan, and while I saw and experienced some amazing places, sights, and foods, I think the thing that will stay with me from this trip is more of an attitude I hope I will be able to retain long after the end of my holiday and absorb into my own life.

One thing that always strikes me when I visit Japan is the level of curiosity on display for niche subjects. One example of this can be seen on TV every day - each area of the country has its own specialties, and on any channel you can find presenters visiting little local restaurants, cafes, shops, and so on to try them and speak to their creators about how they are made.

Positivity personified

On my most recent visit, I was lucky enough to see this outlook personified. In the buildup to my trip, I’d asked if a friend of a friend could help me get tickets to an event. As it turned out, he didn’t just buy a ticket, but also came with me and invited me to hang out with this friends the day before.

We couldn’t communicate fluently (my Japanese and his English are both very basic) but we had a great time together. I think more than anything he was delighted that I’d taken an interest in one of his passions, and as we departed he gave me a very sentimental goodbye gift with a handwritten thank you message, which was more touching than I’d been expecting.

Initially it made me smile, but over time I considered it more deeply, thinking about the place it had come from, and realised how jaded modern life has made me. Especially since the dawn of the internet, life has me on high alert, always wary of being taken advantage of, and always conscious that no matter what I do, there will always be somebody better out there.

Even when I was on the receiving end of such kindness in Japan, my main concern was worry about whether my reactions might seem rude or ungrateful. It’s like the anxiety instilled in me by all those online horror stories, arguments, and comparisons has adjusted my natural response to focus on damage control, rather than gratitude or pure enjoyment.

You have control

By coincidence, one of the podcast episodes waiting in my queue when I got home was the dating expert Matthew Hussey speaking on Modern Wisdom. In a discussion about dating trends, he shared a poignant message that can essentially be summed up as: “Your actions dictate your life.”

In a part with relevance spanning well beyond dating, Hussey discouraged listeners from focusing on macro-level issues. An obsession with politics and global trends will affect your outlook and hold you back, when in fact your personal outcomes might be entirely different. And even if things do turn out the way the statistics suggest, you have more control than you think, and adjusting your actions can help to bring about different results.

His advice was to approach life with curiosity, asking questions like “How can this work out?”, “How can I be impressed by this person?”, and “What can I learn here?” Having read many books to overcome (or at least heavily reduce) anxiety in the last year, it immediately struck me that these questions all seek the positive, rather than fearing negative outcomes.

Perhaps there’s some confirmation bias at play here, but to me, this seems to match what I learnt from my new friend. His gift now sits on a shelf in my flat, and I hope that long after the aura of my holiday as faded away it will still serve as a reminder in my daily life to stay grateful and curious.

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