I fell madly in love with Japan when I first travelled there in 2014 and I’m happy to say that my love for this incredible country only heightened during my second visit earlier this year. But it was only when I got back home that I started wondering what exactly it was about Japan that made me love it oh-so-much. After all, I’ve also loved my time in other places such as Paris and New York, but for some reason Japan was just another level.
So on my return home I started to read more about Japanese culture and something became clear: while other countries undoubtedly have their own rich histories and cultures, one of the stand-outs about Japan (in addition to the food, the fashion, the whisky, the anime…) is its delicate mix of east-meets-west, traditional-meets-modern philosophical principles and how these manifest in everyday life. And I soon realised that there were some principles we can all live by everyday – wherever it is that we call home.
Kaizen – which translates roughly to ‘good change’ – is a productivity philosophy that can be applied to all aspects of life, especially achieving big or long-term goals. The idea behind kaizen is taking micro-steps towards continual improvement rather than trying to make radical changes in a small amount of time; by making a continuous effort to make small improvements everyday – from practicing an instrument to changing a process at work – these small, consistent improvements will eventually compound to make a big impact. While this principle requires perseverance and patience, breaking down a goal in this way can make it seem more achievable than trying to achieve it quickly and withing a set a timeframe (or never achieving it at all!)
Shinrin-yoku – or ‘forest bathing’ – was first developed by government officials at the Forest Agency of Japan in the 1980s as a way to relieve stress and encourage a healthier lifestyle. The premise is simple: being outside in nature can rejuvenate the body and mind. But more than that, shinrin-yoku is about mentally switching off and completely immersing yourself in some kind of dense greenery, like a forest (the hint is in the name, see?!) Think no phones, minimal talking, and using all your senses to soak it all in. Considering that researchers in Japan and South Korea have even linked forest bathing to a drop in blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol after about 15 minutes, this is one we should all be trying. I just wish I knew about it before spending the afternoon walking through the forestry of Yoyogi park! (Pictured above)
I’ve left this one for last as it’s a bit more involved than the rest; the concept of ikigai is all about your purpose in life, or your reason for enjoying yourself that has you looking forward to the future. But before you start to feel overwhelmed, ikigai is a bit more humble than its grand western counterparts which encourage us to discover our passion and find our dream jobs. In fact, it doesn’t have to have anything to do with work or income at all (but it certainly can). For example, while your actual job might not be your ikigai, it might be one small aspect of your work – the aspect you love, enjoy and which makes you feel valued. Alternatively, it could be a fulfuling hobby, pursuing an ideal, education and learning, or being creative. Even if it’s hard, I believe your ikigai is something worth thinking about. Now excuse me while I try and work out mine…