Living in Season

I’m taking the time I would have been working to do some writing. I’ve become somewhat stoic about the coronavirus, knowing I can do nothing to change the outcome. Almost daily the stock markets plunge and customers cancel, but I allow the virus less mental and emotional space. It’s not like I will be kicked out on the street and it’s not like my clients don’t want to join future tours. I just have to ride out the storm and be patient. It has been a practice in slowing down, thinking and enjoying life outside of work, as well as considering my direction when the clouds do clear. I hadn’t thought of this before choosing the title, but in a sense this is also living in a particular season.

People often ask why I live in Japan. Why not live in the States where things are admittedly easier and more comfortable? For many Americans it is unfathomable that anyone, especially a citizen would want to live outside the Promise Land. While I do like certain things about America, there are many aspects of Japan I just like better. One reason to live in Japan are the seasons. Seasons are so distinct in Japan that I would argue going to the same place in 4 different seasons is almost like going to 4 different places. Any tour inquiry I receive I automatically answer with, “what time of year would you like to visit” because the timing determines the trip. Scenery changes, only certain foods are available and activities are planned, all based on the time of year.

Food is one of the most important components of the changing seasons. In the States, sometimes there is seasonality to fruits and vegetables if they are grown locally. Practically everything else is available year-round. Want apples in Spring or blueberries in Winter? No problem, pick them while they’re green and import them from California or Chile. While that is convenient, each morsel of food now carries a significant carbon footprint and just as important, renders the food flavorless. An open secret of Japanese cuisine is pretty simple: Use freshly-picked ingredients. How could the food not taste better? Here Japan’s size is an advantage, being small enough to ship throughout the country on the same day. Further, one’s appreciation rises for something that is scarce. When apples are available all year, they are just an ordinary item. When you can only eat them from October to December, they become a delicacy. The ultimate in-season, low carbon food is wild vegetables foraged in the mountains. Every year in a salute to our hunter-gatherer days, throngs of foodie-hikers and enterprising mountain men climb into the hills and forage for food, not because they are hungry but because what they gather tastes good. All manner of leaves, shoots, bamboo, roots and mushrooms are gathered, in what is a delicious (and if you don’t know what you’re doing, deadly) tradition. “Sansai” as these wild vegetables are called, are still an integral part of Japanese cuisine. In some ways, it’s unfortunate to see Japan shifting away from its seasonality in food towards a convenience store and fast food culture. However, I think Japan still retains the ideal at least that food should be eaten in accordance with the season in which it was grown.

While I don’t know as much about art, seasonality is certainly an important component of the Japanese aesthetic. Ikebana, calligraphy, the tea ceremony, kimonos, wood block prints, origami and Japanese gardens are just some of the Japanese art forms I can think of that take the season into consideration. When checking into a traditional Japanese style inn, called a ryokan, there is typically an indented area of the room known as a Tokonoma. It contains a scroll or poem, a carving or piece of pottery and a flower or branch. All this is coordinated to be in keeping with the season, to reflect on the inside what is occurring in the outside world. It is a nice reminder to enjoy the current time because the only constant is change and something new is coming.

Finally, there are the physical changes that occur to the natural world in Japan that keep me exploring and interested. This is less unique to Japan but still a great part of living here. Bright red mountains in the Autumn, snowy peaks begging to be snowboarded in the Winter, cherry blossoms and flowers exploding in Spring and a carpet of deep, lush greenery in Summer. If you have never visited the same place in Japan in a different season, the change in scenery is drastic. It’s one of the things I love about this place.

To join one of my tours or see the things I’m talking about for yourself, visit activetraveljapan.com or pickleballtrips.com and join us for the trip of a lifetime. We have tours for every season 😉

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5 thoughts on “Living in Season

  1. Daniel
    I always enjoy your writings. This storm shall pass as all storms do and you will be busier than ever! Stay well my young friend!

  2. Daniel, You are an exquisite writer and every post about Japan increases my desire to join you on a tour. It will happen one day. And, I want to try the seasonal food and experience the change of seasons. By the way, I grew up in Northeast Ohio and the change of seasons is as drastic as you describe in Japan. The Great Lakes impact the seasons and create beautiful blossoms in the spring, lush greenery in the summer, bursting fall colors and white snowy winters. Although the pristine blues of the Colorado skies don’t exist “back home” because the lakes create a constant production of pillowy clouds. Japan definitely has us in the realm of seasonality in food plus the unique traditions of the Japanese culture. Keep writing!

  3. Good post, Daniel. I loved what you said about the seasons and how they present themselves so differently in everything we do. Isn’t God amazing that he created us to enjoy so fully what He has created. Love and miss you and am praying for your good health as well as your business. Love always, Mamie

    Sent from my iPhone

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  4. Well written Daniel, you encapsulate the essence of Japanese culture really well. Makes me keen to be visiting again, cheers John Matheson

  5. I spend 23 years abroad and wouldn’t exchange those years and experiences for anything/anywhere.
    RE the virus – I was planning to travel myself in 6 wks. and crossing my fingers that this thing burns itself out.

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