Finding Peace in Refinement

By Bastian Florian Rohr
January 3, 2023

I have been living in Japan for over a decade now. Although I am unsure whether the country has fundamentally changed me, I can at least say how much more sensitive a man she has transformed me into.

Yes, Japan is a female entity for me. Perhaps because of that alternatively sweet and cruel vibe I get from her, or perhaps simply because of my undying love of Japanese girls.

By sensitive, I mean primarily aware of even the slightest changes in my life or environment. Now that I think about it, this may be tied to how the Japanese view intelligence. In the West, intelligence is often seen strictly as an analytical ability, while in Japan, the notion also seems to encompass various emotional attitudes.

Take the awareness of seasonal changes, for instance. To a typical Western mind, it would be more than enough to know on a conceptual level that one follows the other in a neverending cycle. Yet to the Japanese, this will seem unsatisfactory, as intelligence would require you to act on these changes to show your love or hatred for them.

That is why the years here are punctuated with small events marking particular times. In September, there is moon viewing; fireworks brighten the skies in the summer, and in the winter, incredibly aesthetic greeting cards are exchanged on an almost industrial scale.

Western traditions may look similar, but that is true only on the surface. I cannot quite explain it yet, but there is a uniqueness in Japanese change appreciation and general sensitivity. To prevent curses from developing, what other modern nation burns mountains of discarded needles and old dolls in temples?

The way Japanese culture approaches changes and cycles is highly paradoxical in that it is both refined and yet extremely natural. It is a successful combination of formality and ease that I have not encountered anywhere else in my travels.

I cannot emphasize enough how pleasing and peaceful such a paradox feels. Japanese refinement has a way of sharpening the mind without disconnecting it from the soul that cold Western rationality may have forgotten entirely.