Before the end of this March the first and last time that I spent a week in Japan was in the company of Sri Vimalananda during January 1982. Back then though Japan’s economy was moving steadily forward its overall level of development had not yet reached its peak, and during our time there (in Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Tokyo) I had the impression of a country still striving mightily to find its place in the world.
Between then and now Japan entered the ranks of the planet’s most developed countries, where (though currently troubled by persistent economic stagnation) it remains. It felt to me much different than it felt then: more self-assured, better integrated with the rest of the world. I spent a busy week there in the company of my dear friend and colleague Dr. Claudia Welch, all but one of those nights in Tokyo. The single night we spent outside was here.
A superb location, excellent hot pools, and hospitable staff (who even arranged a vegan dinner for the two of us) makes Takaragawa Onsen Osenkaku well worth a visit. In Tokyo itself we can suggest dinner at Tokyo Shiba Tofuya Ukai, a restaurant with beautiful gardens that serves a multi-course tofu menu, and tea at Higashiya Ginza.
Though it snowed all day long the day I arrived, the weather soon cleared up and sakura (cherry blossoms) appeared on the trees, which multiplied our enjoyment of the city, in particular at the shrines we visited (including Hie and Meiji).
All in all, it was a superlative visit, offering a noteworthy perspective on the Japanese approach to urban life. Most of March I had spent in Mumbai, currently number 10 on the list of the world’s 47 megacities (which are conurbations, or urban agglomerations, whose population exceeds ten million), and I am writing this in Mexico City (currently number 13). China has 15 megacities, India 6, and Japan 3. Greater Tokyo (Tokyo-Yokohama-Kawasaki) heads the list, with approximately 38 million residents. The approximately 68 million residents of Japan’s three megacities represents just over half of the country’s entire population, with Greater Tokyo accounting for almost 30% of all Japanese.
Ayurveda, which in its current form was created specifically to deal with dwellers in towns and cities, recognizes the particular challenges of residing in artificial locales, and emphasizes the importance of maintaining personal calm even when external conditions are chaotic and unsettling.
In addition to a decided lack of obese individuals (at least on the streets we walked), what greatly impressed both Dr. Claudia and me about this “hyper-city” was how quiet, clean, and orderly it is. Even at busy intersections pedestrians found ways to avoid one another as they adroitly crossed. Rarely were voices raised, and on the trains and buses we took the loudest speech always seemed to emanate from foreigners.
Like every country Japan has its challenges, but public politeness even when surrounded by massed humans is not one of them. In our increasingly urbanized world there is in my opinion much to be said for fostering in oneself an attitude deliberate civility of toward one’s fellow citizens. The pressures of life surrounded by millions of other humans might not disappear if every denizen of every city elected to be considerate to one another in shared spaces, but it would certainly not multiply those pressures the way that loud, confrontational boisterousness coupled with unmanaged trash does.
Arigatō Gozaimas Nihon!