Japan: Presence and attention to detail

2024-05-12  Travel and Leisure

A holiday brings a chance to unwind, time to focus on things beyond day-to-day life, and often an opportunity to take in another culture. Combined, these factors can produce a unique state of mind, and I find that one of the most difficult parts of any trip where it arises is to properly observe and harness the new perspective that brings before it disappears once again under the tide of work and life admin. That’s why I’m working through the jet lag to type this out before the weekend is through.

The trip itself – another couple of weeks in Japan – was fast-paced and thoroughly enjoyable. I spent my time between the bustle of Tokyo and more rural parts of Hokkaido, packing in as much good food and karaoke as possible along the way. But wherever I am in Japan, my eye is always drawn back to the attention to detail and earnestness ingrained in its culture. This is demonstrated in everything from an elaborate shop window display to consideration for others in public spaces.

Following my last visit, I wrote about the hospitality and curiosity of those I met on my travels. My return served as something of a follow-up meditation session, and offered a chance to further concentrate and expand upon those thoughts, and properly consider what use they might be to me in my regular life.

Cutting myself off

Independent of my surroundings, one thing that occurred to me as beneficial was that with limited internet access I was almost entirely detached from Western online culture for the duration of my stay. I watched some Japanese television over breakfast, but had no time for Reddit threads, Twitter memes, and so on.

That isn’t to say that I was completely cut off from all news and media. I saw some footage of Stellar Blade on its release. I had enough time to watch a film on Netflix on one especially rainy afternoon. And I’d check Google every couple of days to see what I’d missed in terms of football scores and Formula 1 race results.

However, what was missing was the often overwhelming amount of commentary on each of these. I didn’t read a single argument about whether Eve was too sexy or not. I went in blind to the film and formed my own opinions. And I was excited about which teams or drivers were doing well (or otherwise, for those I’m less fond of) without the usual stream of memes mocking their performance or interview quotes.

When I thought this through, I realised there were two big benefits. Firstly, and most obviously, I was free to come to my own conclusions and decide what I liked and what I didn’t without outside interference. But perhaps more importantly to my own mindset was that I no longer saw others’ work being so harshly criticised – something that surely has a subconscious effect on how I expect my own words, actions, and creations to be received, and therefore how I behave in the world.

Presence and focus

It’s a concept that’s slightly more difficult to describe, but with that layer of mental fog lifted and having absorbed some of the spirit of those surrounding me, I was also able to dial in somewhat to that Japanese presence of mind and pride in a job well done and focus more on things that were directly in front of me.

It was perhaps easier given my unfamiliar surroundings, but part of this was just enjoying nice things for their own sake and appreciating the effort others had put into creating them. This shop display was presented in a particularly pretty way. That red wine was delicious alongside my steak. Even the cheerful chime that played before the metro doors closed had to have been composed by somebody.

As a natural consequence, I allowed myself more time to create simple, pleasant things for myself. I stopped at the desk in the expressway rest stop and put its stamp in my notebook. I took the time to arrange my evening meal nicely on the plate, even if it was only supermarket food. And I paid the extra ¥100 to feed the alpacas some green leaves at a farm I visited, because when else would I get the chance to?

It’s easier said than done, but I hope I can maintain this outlook in my normal life now I’m back home. There are greater pressures and bigger distractions to contend with, but spending less time online, focusing on things themselves rather than the commentary surrounding them, and being more appreciative of the little niceties I encounter would certainly be beneficial to my quality of life and mental health.

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