How to fall in love with Japan

A friend asked for advice on visiting Japan…

It took me a little while to fall in love with Japan. The first time I visited there I found it grey and box, devoid of its famed spirituality. It wasn’t until we returned a second time that I discovered what I was missing. The trick is not to look at the bland green rice paddies, the smoking factories, the endless rows of grey and brown houses and apartment blocks. Look closer!

Suddenly you see the small patches of beauty that emerge until they fill your entire view. The pots outside the front of the house filled with colour flowers. The red paper lantern swinging in front of the izakaya. The tiny shrine wedged in between the building. The subtle pattern on the brown tea cup where complexity would only disturb the serenity of sipping the bitter tea within.

Sometimes the beauty is on a larger scale. A train ride through bamboo and cedar forest, narrow gorges and up to a rustic mountain village where temples quietly contemplate the hills. Resting in teahouse overlooking a garden pink with cherry blossoms, brooding castle in the background. Mount Fuji, a pyramid of white dominating the landscape, understandably a venerated god.

Change your mind! That ball of rice is not a western sweet, but it offsets the bitter matcha tea. You would not drink that bitter, but there is comfort in the action itself as you warm yourself in front of the heater. It feels embarrassing to sit naked on that stool, pouring bowls of water over yourself as you cleanse in preparation for the hot bath. Yet it is more relaxing than standing with weary legs under a shower. And at the end of the day who would want to sleep on the floor? But you slip into a blissful sleep accompanied by the scent of straw.

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