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Hi ST, congrats on completing your Japanese language course. Well, to get the most out of your stay in Japan, I strongly suggest that don’t go there merely to make money, but instead aim to expand your mind and learn from a new culture.

Try to find the magic in daily life

I have completed my Japanese language training and will soon leave for Japan to work. I want to get the most out of my time in Japan (I am in my early 20s and male). Can lama advise me?

ST, Thimphu 

Hi ST, congrats on completing your Japanese language course.

Well, to get the most out of your stay in Japan, I strongly suggest that don’t go there merely to make money, but instead aim to expand your mind and learn from a new culture.

Actually, it might be a good idea for you to use your interests as a way to meet local people and explore your new world. If you are interested in martial arts, for example, you could attend aikido or karate classes in your free time. If you enjoy hip hop, connect with people who share your passion. Find a band to jam up with if you enjoy music. Basically, let your interests act as a bridge between you and the local community.

Also, be aware that when people live overseas, there is a tendency to crave things from home, and when these cannot be found it can lead to feelings of disappointment and even depression. Instead of focussing on what does not exist in Japan, look at what does exist. For sure, emadatsi will not be readily available in Tokyo, Osaka, or Sendai, but Japan has a fantastic cuisine. The taste is quite subtle for people who are familiar with spicy food, but once you get used to it you’ll enjoy it. Also, avoid the habit of comparing your home with your new place. Just accept that you are in Japan and be there fully – not half in and half out.

I further suggest that you get a good map of the city where you are living and walk to your destinations. Walking is a great way to connect with your environment – not to mention a way to save money! Japan is generally very safe and the people are helpful and so don’t worry about getting lost. Also, when you walk, be fully aware of your surroundings and try to find the magic in the ordinary things you see – the people, the morning and evening light, the trees, the rivers etc.

It would also be a good idea to familiarize yourself with at least the basic history and geography of Japan. This will help you understand the local traditions and culture.

Japanese work ethic is admired throughout the world. Observe how the people approach their jobs. Generally, Japanese work long hours, but they do their work respectfully and have a strong sense of loyalty. Obviously, working long hours is physically tiring, but doing a job with full effort gives a deep sense of satisfaction. Actually, this approach to work has been very much influenced by Zen – the main form of Buddhism found in Japan. In Zen Buddhism, mindfulness, a sense of gratitude, and seeing the journey as the goal is very much emphasized and so rather than doing a job in a ‘shortcut’ way, it is done mindfully and beautifully. Like walking up a mountain – the peak might be the final destination, but each step is seen as a goal in itself.

As an example of this spirit, I remember a cobbler who worked on the streets of Tokyo. He had a small box that contained his tools and he would sit near a busy metro station fixing shoes. He had a strong sense of responsibility towards his customers, and so whether it was hot, cold, snowing or dry, he would be there repairing old footwear. Whenever he received or returned a pair of shoes, he would do so with two hands, as if he were handling a rare treasure.

He treated his tools and his customers with respect and did his job with great dignity. Everyone who knew him says that he was very content with his life.  If your mind is open and clear, you will notice such things and be inspired by daily experiences. Of course, landmark buildings are important to a city, but it is the ordinary people who give a place a distinct character and can teach you life skills.

Obviously there will be some irritations – that will happen wherever you live – but try not to take them too seriously. Instead, just acknowledge that sometimes there will be annoying encounters, but in reality they are not a big deal. Don’t dwell on them, but instead focus on the many cool things that you experience.

In short, be mindful and try to find the magic in daily life. If you can do that, you’ll gain a lot from your time in Japan.

Shenphen Zangpo was born in Swansea, UK, but spent more than 28 years practicing and studying Buddhism in Taiwan and Japan. Currently, he works with the youth and substance abusers in Bhutan, teaching meditation and organising drug outreach programmes. Email to jjwangchuk@gmail.com for any queries

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