The other day, a friend of mine asked me how I’m going to live differently since my visit to Kyoto. I didn’t think about it until then, but I now realize that my way of thinking has definitely been influenced by some of the wonderful people I got to meet in Japan.
One of the most striking and eccentric individuals we met during our visits was Amae-san (Derrick). My group met with Amae-san first, and we ultimately ran out of time before we got to do the actual tea ceremony. Instead, we started off our meeting by cleaning out the tea room. This was a very thorough process that involved sweeping, wiping, and drying the tatami mats. With an international background, Derrick had an understanding of western conceptions of cleaning. He understood that we grew up thinking that cleaning was a chore. He explained to us, however, that cleaning should be done until satisfaction, and it develops a respect and appreciation for your living space and possessions. He was right. After cleaning the tatami mats, I began to think more deeply about how delicate they are, and I noticed them even after our visit.
Aside from tatami mats, I began to take note of how clean Kyoto was. This was one of the first things I noticed upon arriving, but I began to notice the efforts people put into Kyoto being clean. I saw people cleaning sidewalks with a power washer and scrubber at 7 in the morning. I noticed how there was a lack of trash cans, and I realized how much more mindful I had to be of the amount of garbage I was producing, since I had to carry it around more.
Amae-san also opened all of the windows, despite the fact that it was the middle of January. There was no heater, and the room was freezing. Japanese houses have little to no insolation. At first, I thought he was just trying to be hardcore, then he explained that he was “letting the house breathe”. I then realized that he was also very cold, even slightly shivering. But he told us that his house was made mostly of wood, and that wood needs to breathe. If he didn’t air out the house, even in the middle of winter, moisture would build up and the wood would rot. The wood in his house was over 400 years old, and if he didn’t let it breathe, it would die in the next 50 years. There is a greater mindfulness of long-term in Kyoto. Even though Amae-san will die within the next 100 years, the wood will outlive him, and therefore he makes an effort to preserve it.
Similarly, Miyamoto restored the statues in a way that was more difficult for him to do, but made it easier for the next person restoring them. Of course, Miyamoto will not be alive during the next restoration of the statue. It might take up to 300 years for the next restoration. The people we met, however, had a deep consciousness towards the future, and worked to preserve the nature and tradition of Kyoto. This was something I’d rarely ever seen in America, especially from people as young as the artisans. It really impressed me to my core, and is a principle I want to take with me and cultivate within myself for the future.
It’s hard to find the words to express how I felt on this trip, because there were so many wonderful things I got to witness. I’m very grateful for this experience, and I know that it’s one I will never forget.