It’s been about four months since my trip to Japan and I’ve had the time to reflect on my eye-opening and cultural experiences there. Japan is a land of tranquility and technology – a true mix of the old world and the new. After reflecting, I’ve come to realize I learned some very important lessons from Japan that will stick with me for years to come. (Disclaimer: I’m about to make general assumptions about the people and experiences I encountered during my limited time in Japan, but these don’t apply to all people or situations.)
Lesson 1: Be Mindful.
It is customary in Japan to never eat a meal standing up. People don’t typically eat on the go – they eat slowly and with intention. I love that their culture is focused around mindfulness – being aware of the present, enjoying the tasty food you eat, and appreciating the sounds of nature around you. When we attended a tea ceremony with a famous Japanese tea master, we spent an afternoon making and drinking tea. It sounds so simple, but it was amazing! We experienced the pleasure of drinking as a group, learning about the history of tea masters in Japan, and being thankful for the moment.
I especially enjoyed visiting the temples throughout Kyoto. Many temples did not allow you to take photos of the inside. This was hard for me since I love “capturing moments“, but I was forced to be present and not worry about documenting my experience. I was able to fully experience the immensity of these beautiful ancient temples.
Lesson 2: Practice Peace & Forgiveness.
Another theme I noticed that weaved itself throughout my time in Japan were the ideas of peace and forgiveness. From my time spent in Hiroshima to Mount Fuji, I realized how ingrained it is in Japanese culture to promote – and practice – peace and forgiveness. This is an important quality that will ultimately lead you to true happiness.
Lesson 3: Live a healthy life, naturally.
Japanese people as a whole seem to be very healthy. Their secret? Walking, matcha tea, and raw fish! And this is no joke. During my time in Japan I drank so much tea, walked until my feet were sore, and ate raw fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Okay, maybe not that much, but it felt like it.)
When I asked if people in Japan went to the gym, the common answer was a resounding no. They don’t need to make time in their life to work out or eat healthy, it’s how they live every day! It made me think of all the fad diets and exercise regimens we have here in the U.S., yet how so many people still struggle with being healthy. It was very inspiring to see older Japanese couples looking vibrant and youthful well into their 80s. #goals.
Lesson 4: Never arrive empty handed.
Nearly everywhere we went, our group received a gift. From the tea masters, to our Mount Fuji guide, to parents and friends of our trip leader, they all presented our group with something special. We soon discovered this was not unique to us, but very common in Japan overall. And I don’t mean that this is a materialistic culture. Many of these gifts were small but sentimental. It’s the gesture and the meaning behind the gift that means so much, not the price tag. Pictured below are Japanese students practicing English by interviewing tourists (like me!) At the end of my interview, they presented me with handmade origami. It was so special.
Lesson 5: Contradictions are good.
As mentioned a few times before, Japan is a land of contradictions. I’ve never visited a place before that whole-heartedly believes in and clings to traditions the way Japan does. Japanese style rooms, respect of removing one’s shoes, the placement of chopsticks in a bowl – these are all very real and meaningful aspects to Japanese culture. Yet, Japan is one of the most clean, technologically advanced and innovative modern societies. We took one of the fastest trains in the world to visit ancient temples. We had access to the most high tech bathrooms while watching the ancient sport of sumo wrestling. Women in kimonos take selfies on the steps of a temple. Japanese people tend to be private and reserved, yet love going to the casinos and onsen (bathhouses). The list goes on. But that’s what makes Japan so wonderful and unique! If you find contradictions in your own life that is good and healthy. Hold on to what makes you YOU.
Those are some of the major lessons that jumped out at me from my time in Japan. Have you ever been? What did you learn from this beautiful culture?
For more on my time in Japan:
- Japan Recap
- Tokyo: A City of Technology and Tradition
- Kyoto: The Heart of Japan
- May Peace Prevail on Earth: Mount Fuji
- Exploring Miyajima Island
- A Visit to Hiroshima
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