My blog is called „88 temples in search of the ikigai“ and while walking around the countryside these past few days something really hit me. Something I kind of knew, but never occurred to me as much as it does now. Perhaps because I am older, perhaps because I am more aware of the discussion of an aging society.
Japan is old.
Very old. People have such a healthy lifestyle, at least the old generation, that they weather but don‘t wither. So while hiking I would constantly see old and elderly people working in the fields.
You have to understand, that Japan has very little space to accommodate its inhabitants. That is why houses are rather small, if not to say tiny, at least in the cities. And on top of that every little bit of land that can be used to grow rice and vegetables is being used.
It is hard to describe the love that pours out of these fields. Yes, love! You walk by and you see the hard work and handwork and love that goes into growing these plants. Everything from rice, to cucumber, eggplant, squashes, you name it.
When I walked by trees, where fruits were covered with little bags to protect them, I could not even start to think what kind of work that must have been.
And many of them are not for sale, but for the family‘s use, especially in the countryside. Though when there is plenty, it is not being kept but shared.
I have always seen older people working in Japan. Raking the temple grounds, picking up litter, of which there is very little in general, but that is another story. Sometimes being a parking guard or road guard when there is construction site that needs attention.
Do they have to work, because they have not enough money in their old age? That might be, but I have a feeling, that that might not be the only reason.
Now, in Germany people are discussing how reasonable it is to work longer, instead of having time and money to relax and enjoy the rest of their lives. It is all about the „Generationenvertrag“ the generation contract, that the older generation has made with us, before we were born and the contract we bestow on the generation that still has to be born. Pretty unfair, considering, that while we expect them to pay for our leisure and doctor bills, we trash the environment they will live in, after we are gone.
So when I started reading the book „Ikigai“ on of the things the authors pointed out was the longevity of Japanese in general and those living on Okinawa more specifically. They identified a couple of reasons why, but one for sure was that people keep busy, working on the field for example.
If you were a cynic you could argue that letting people retire, not knowing what to do with themselves, might benefit the society as they will die earlier because of boredom and idleness.
Let‘s not be cynic, because the search is for a better life, not an easier one.
Yesterday I stumbled over a TED Talk. These days, as there are so many, it is seldom, that I watch them, though I really like the format and find them inspirational.
The topic was addiction and how to help addicts. You find the link here, as it is a really good one, take the time to watch it but to summarize it: It is not punishment that helps addicts but meaningful relationships. Being connected – surprise – is another key factor with the people on Okinawa who live to become a hundred and older.
At this point you might think „Who wants to become that old, seeing all the bad things happening in the world? What is the point?“
The point is not the age, I think it is a side product of being happy and having a meaningful life.
So, having a purpose, no matter how old you are and being connected with other people helps you to achieve this.
Once that thought went through my mind, it lingered for a moment and I realized, that that might be the reason why I always feel recharged after having been in Japan: People connect. On very many different levels, but it is still a society, that cares. Not everyone, not every day. Nevertheless, significantly stronger than in Germany and obviously much more than in Berlin.
Bit by bit places and initiatives come to light, that try to connect people, but they have to be looked after and cared for as Japanese do with their patches of land so that they can become fields of love.