Hi, friends! I've been excited to share bits and pieces of our trip to Japan with you but it's hard to know where to begin. (I've also been fighting the jet lag demons ever since we got home. Ugh!) This trip has left my eyes wide open and my heart expanded and so much of me is inspired by what we saw, learned, witnessed, noticed, absorbed. Here are some of my favorites.
The natural respectThere is an amazing culture of respect in Japan that seems to permeate all relationships. Family relationships, friend to friend, shopkeeper to customer. Everybody bows hello, thank you, goodbye. Even two young friends parting ways in the subway after a night out will give a little bow to each other as they say goodnight. We found it to be so sweet and dignified. All of us loved this tradition.
Oh, Japanese design. It's lovely. It's simple. It's infused into the most everyday facts of life. Everywhere we went I noticed this careful, thoughtful focus on beauty and aesthetics. Spaces were uncluttered, walls were white, little details never went by the wayside. In our hotel room in Kyoto the hair dryer was stored in a cream-colored linen bag with the word "DRYER" hand-stamped on the edge in inky block letters. The tiniest, most subtle thing. At our gate in the Osaka airport, there were rows and rows of kelly green seats with light-colored wooden frames and the notes of a piano trio murmured over the sound system. A garage door near our Airbnb in Tokyo was made of wood, not vinyl, and I never knew a garage door could be so gorgeous. These things are heart-swelling for someone like me. I'm so inspired by this intentional creation of loveliness, by the elevation of the mundane, by the attention to simple beauties.
The cleanliness and general treatment of public property
Japan is a clean place. On the streets, in public restrooms, in the backs of taxi cabs, in the subways. All clean! It was marvelous. We realized partway through the trip that this has less to do with fastidious janitors or a well-paid city cleaning staff and more to do with maintenance by regular people and a respect for what is shared. The tip-top bathrooms were obviously most noticeable to us. People don't trash public restrooms in Japan. If anything, they will leave a bathroom stall cleaner than it was when they walked in. Some bathrooms even had wall-mounted cleaning spray for the seat. Brilliant!
The onsen culture
This was a girls activity that my friend and I did together while the boys headed back to the hotel. An onsen is a Japanese spa where women and men go (separately, usually) to bathe. There were two hot indoor pools, one hot outdoor pool that was dyed red for some reason and one cold pool (which was a godsend). All done in the nude! This part took a little getting-used-to but I think we both found the atmosphere to be quite liberating. There's nothing showy about it and there's also nothing fearful. Body image does not have a place in the onsen. You are there to nourish your body, physically and spiritually, not to criticize it or flaunt it or feel ashamed of it. You soak, pamper, relax, treat. It's like a little thank-you to your body for working so hard. It was neat to get over our natural modesty for a moment and remember that bodies are just bodies. They're functional and biological and they're beautiful no matter what precisely they look like. The Japanese women barely gave us a glance and absolutely none of them (and many of them were quite a bit older than us) were self-conscious about walking around with nothing to hide behind. Really inspiring.
...and SO much more. I loved Japan. I adored it. I didn't want to leave and I definitely want to someday go back.
Of course, having the best travel buddies in the world didn't hurt. Post on that to come!