Strength And Dignity

JapanThese 2 words came to mind when I observed, as I’d love to, the goings on of the daily lives of the Japanese people. Not those in the big cities, but folks in the smaller towns. Our 2nd day in Kyoto brought us to one such place which was along our way to Arashiyama. We had been treated to the spectacle of Kinkakuji and have got off a 205 bus en route to hopping on board the Randen train. Having had no breakfast we decided to pop into a corner supermarket to grab some grub – I settled for a sushi in a box set while the wife got an okonomiyaki. While enjoying the meal on the bench by the supermarket entrance, what better than to watch the folks go about their daily lives.

Firstly, in Japan, one hardly sees a person lounging around doing nothing. Whether the person is a groundskeeper, housewife, old folk, the Japanese people are always engaged. In doing something. No “Jom minum” mentality we see in Malaysia. In the small suburbs, even home owners turn a small section of their frontage into a business, selling snacks or handicraft and souvenirs.

The photos you see below are those showing the elderly doing their grocery shopping at the said supermarket. It seems that it’s the usual practice to bag your own shopping, once the shopping are paid. The checkout staff will tally up your items and transfer them to another basket. The shopper then will carry this basket to a separate table to bag the stuff or stash them into their shopping cart. All done quietly, with no rush nor the pressure of speed. Age didn’t seem to be a factor as well as both the wife and I were astonished to see a few folks bent double yet were out doing their “chores”.

One of my colleagues asked me what captivated me the most about Kyoto, now that I’ve visited the place twice. It’s not the glitz of the metropolis, because I certainly don’t miss Tokyo’s packed trains even at 11pm. Of course, we know about their famed punctuality, precision (bordering on bureaucracy and steadfastness on clinging to the old ways), food and cleanliness. But what opened my eyes were the peoples’ enthusiasm, appreciation for their natural heritage, sense of order, honesty and pride. Insecurity that we increasingly experience and see here in Malaysia – think security sensors in shops, chained products, non-placement of goods by the store entrance – are not a factor there. In Tokyo I gaped at the electronic gadgets left unattended at store fronts. In Kyoto, I passed a handful of shops without a visible clerk, probably on toilet break.

The other thing is the seeming simplicity of their the Kyotolites’ lives. We already know that their homes are compact. There are, of course, mansions and villas but they’re exceptions. The size of a typical Japanese home would not warrant a 60″ 3D LED TV or a 3+3+2 living room furnishing. Neither would they have space for voluminous bookcases and walk-in wardrobes. Everything will have to be purposeful, equally compact, efficiently organized and laid out. Other than a Porsche Panamera, a Golf GTI and a Mini, I didn’t see another turbocharged car in Kyoto. Tokyo’s Ginza, however, are the opposite with all the flash. All material things that we seem to be chasing and shaping our lives around. A 20×60 home isn’t large enough? Well, move to a 22×75 then! It’s never enough and there’s no end to that pursuit of a “better life”. Instead of pursuing bigger and faster material things to accommodate increasing and seemingly must-have possessions, I’ll be always reminded by what I saw to instead strive to shed and scale back.

And the most important observation? To never equate progressing age to the diminishing ability to stay active and productive. I guess Red’s words in The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living or get busy dying” certainly rings loud and true.

Published December 4th, 2012

Advertisements