Most of my life I’ve gone from worrying on how to face what may come next to over-thinking what had just happened. Never living in the moment or ‘being mindful’ – as it’s trendy to say these days.
But the first time I felt utterly alive and emotionally baggage-free was in Japan several years ago. I was reborn, my brain had finally gone on vacation. So, this year, I decided it was time to go back and check out what I had missed the first time around.
Japan is an endless surprise, so distant from the ‘Asia’ most Westerners know. The constant jaw-dropping feeling of being exposed to something extraordinary gives your brain a well-deserved rest and makes you fully appreciate the adventure you are on, leaving daily-life concerns thousands of miles away. So here’s why Japan is THE place for mindful travel:
- The glimmering lights of Tokyo
Even if you are not an urban lover, two or three days in Tokyo are a must. This megalopolis is an assault on the senses for the first-comer. The WOW factor is guaranteed and home will easily become a distant memory.
2. Extraordinary Temples…
Including a Golden one. Yes, you heard it right. Because one of the tips for being mindful is to focus on lovely pretty things. And switching off your phone. NOW.
3. …And temples packed full of deer!
4. The quest for the tallest Buddha statues in Japan
Contemplating a Buddha statue always brings inner piece and tranquillity. In Kamakura, an idyllic seaside village an hour outside of Tokyo, wander through a bamboo forest and some seemingly never-ending woods to reach the famous bronze Buddha statue within the Kōtoku-in Temple. This is the long way to reach the temple but well worth it and rewarded with this magnificent vision of Buddha, deep in meditation, bowing towards the spectator. How can one not feel at peace with the world here?
5. Become a character in Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha
It’s rare to bump into real Geishas these days but if you’d like to try, Kyoto is the place for you. It’s also become rather popular to dress up like Maikos or Geishas, a rather fun people-watching past time. Alternatively, you can be the one getting done up for a few hours and stroll along Kyoto’s cobbled streets re-enacting the sophistication of these enigmatic entertainers.
6. Japanese Gardens are the peak of ZEN
Japanese gardens are the places to cool down if your temper flares or worries catch up with you while in the Rising Sun land.
7. Slow food
Take time to slow-dine and enjoy every mouthful, as focusing on food is a unique way to discover Japan and will really enhance the trip. You wouldn’t even have time to start worrying about real-life problems when there’s this extensive a selection of sushi and sashimi to choose from anyway…
…or melt-in-your mouth Hida beef of the highest quality which can be grilled directly at the restaurant table. Slow, slow grilling and plenty of mindful eating.
8. Follow in the footsteps of Samurais and Geishas (the real ones)
Get lost in history and retrace the steps of the mysterious, inscrutable warriors and performers to learn about their way of life, removed from any Western stereotype.
9. Be surprised in the wild
Spend some quiet time with your mind and go for a hike in the outskirts of Takayama, a delightful, well preserved northern town at the feet of the Japanese Alps.
There’s a surprise around every corner while you explore the Higashiyama walking trail. You might come across a striking temple that does not appear to be on the map amidst tall lush trees (which might also mean you are lost)…
…or an amateurish signage warning there might be bears around.
Either way, you’ll have to set your priorities straight and realise that whatever negative thought was distracting you from fully appreciating this hike, is probably not such a big deal right now. You are either lost or might be about to bump into a free roaming bear!
10. Get under the skin of Sofia Coppola’s ‘Lost in Translation’
Travelling mindful could reach perfection by re-living the iconic film starring Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray. Retrace Tokyo’s filming locations of Coppola’s masterpiece and start with a cocktail at the Park Hyatt’s New York Bar in Shinjuku – where Bob and Charlotte meet in the movie. It offers some of the best jazz and views this side of the planet in the most glamorous surroundings.
And now, only now you are allowed to switch your mobile back on and brag on social media about the best trip you’ve ever had. Without a thought in the world.
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Written by Guia Sciortino, who is part of indigoeight’s network of pr consultants, and has a passion for Asia. Soon to be living and studying in China, Guia will be sharing her Far Eastern experiences on our blog. Here she reports on a recent trip to Japan.