Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Japanese Concepts that can Improve Your Life

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Art of Manliness Blog, which enumerates 7 Japanese concept that can improve one's life. The full post may be read here.

Like many American boys who grew up in the 1980s, I loved The Karate Kid. For months when I was five years old, I demanded that my family call me “Daniel-san” instead of Brett.

Besides instilling in me a desire to crane-kick everyone, The Karate Kid also implanted a nascent interest in Japanese culture. When I was five, I remember cobbling together a small Shinto shrine out of construction paper, popsicle sticks, and Elmer’s glue so I could have a setup similar to Mr. Miyagi’s dojo in my bedroom. It’s funny to think about a five-year-old church-going kid living in the middle of Oklahoma creating a Shinto shrine for himself. 

My appreciation for Japanese culture has deepened since then and continues today. One of the things I love about the Japanese is that, like the ancient Greeks, they can take complex ideas or concepts and sum them up in a single word or phrase. These phrases can serve as reminders of how to live a flourishing life. I’ve filed away some of these Japanese concepts over the years and incorporated them into my life. 

Here are seven of my favorites:

Kaizen: Seeking Continuous Improvement

Kaizen is a Japanese term that means “continuous improvement.” It’s the idea of making small, incremental changes over time to improve your life and achieve your goals. The Japanese believe that even small changes, made consistently, can accrue significant compound interest.

We’ve written in detail about the history of kaizen and how to implement it in your life here. It’s one of our most popular articles. 

Here’s the gist: Try getting just 1% better every day. If you can make tiny improvements over months, years, and decades, you can move mountains. 

Ikigai: Finding Your Purpose

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that translates to “a reason for being.” It’s the idea of finding one’s purpose in life and aligning it with one’s passions, skills, and values. The Japanese believe finding and pursuing your ikigai is the key to a long and happy life. 

Ikigai is similar to the Hindu idea of dharma, which we’ve written about previously, or Nietzche’s idea of “becoming who you are.”

We’ve got lots of articles and podcasts on this subject. Here are a few of my favorites that can help you discover your ikigai:

Oubaitori: Avoiding Comparison to Others

The characters that spell out oubaitori represent four different trees that bloom in Japan in the spring: cherry, apricot, peach, and plum. Each tree blooms in its own way and in its own time, and each bears a distinct flower and fruit. Oubaitori as a concept grows out of this arboreal image and refers to the idea of avoiding the habit of comparing yourself to others and embracing your unique journey and timeline instead. 

Theodore Roosevelt (another appreciator of Japanese culture) famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Boy, was he right. I’ve noticed that I tend to get most down in the dumps when I start measuring my success against the success of others. Whenever I start doing that, I just remind myself to practice oubaitori. The word serves as a trigger to shift my focus away from others and back to my own path.

Wabi-Sabi: Embracing Imperfection

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophy that embraces imperfection and transience. As artist Leonard Koren put it, wabi-sabi is about finding beauty in the “imperfect, the impermanent, and the incomplete.” It’s the idea that flaws do not necessarily negate something’s worth.

While wabi-sabi is often applied to objects like pottery, it also has resonance for how we think about all kinds of projects, and even ourselves. While there’s a place for seeking excellence and perfection in life, at a certain point, that pursuit can get in the way of making progress. Think of the writer who’s never able to turn in a manuscript because he keeps tinkering with the edits, the guy who never starts a business because he keeps fine-tuning his business plan, or the person who’s crippled by anxiety whenever he makes a mistake. At a certain point, you have to tell yourself, “Wabi-sabi, baby!” You have to embrace imperfection as inherent to all art, to all striving, and to the human condition itself — and move on with your life.


No comments: