Back in February I went to Japan for 2 weeks I got to see Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka Nara and Kobe. It was the trip of a lifetime but I really was amazed at some of the small things I noticed. It should come as no surprise to most people, who have even the most basic understanding of Japan, that it’s a busy place. In Japan’s Urban centers it’s wall-to-wall chaos but it’s organized chaos.
In Japan most people work 6 days a week with 12 hour shifts. This is part of the culture and it’s also part of the problem. Many people are being stretched too thin by their work, a culture of shame and the stress that goes along with it. Many people are putting off having kids and starting a family. This leads to a population with a greater proportion of them being elderly or soon to retire. There aren’t enough young people to support and replace those who transfer out of the work force. Many of the most developed nations account for this through immigration. However, Japan is not immigrant-friendly.
This is starting to sound like a bit of a downer but bear with me. Even though Japan is among the most tightly wound people they have ways of relaxing unlike anywhere else. Japan understands how much their citizens work. It takes a toll on them all but as a way of coping there is a huge aspect of their culture designated to help destress and rejuvenate.
One of the most simple things that can help with stress in Japan is that you can sleep in public. That’s right. I was winding down my day in Osaka, near Sinsaibashi, I looked into a late-night cafe where a man in one booth and a woman in the other were sleeping. Most interesting was how the wait staff just cleaned up there dishes and just let them be. I asked some people about whether or not it’s ok to so and what the deal was.
As it turns out, sleeping in public is seen as a sign of vigilance. You must’ve really worked hard if you are asleep in your chair at the coffee shop. As such, most people just accept it because it’s natural, sometimes people need a nap and it’s not like you’re being a nuisance.
Sometimes sleeping isn’t enough, however and this is where Onsens come in. To the uninitiated, an Onsen, is a Japanese hot spring/spa of sorts. It involves a series of hot and cold baths, saunas, rest areas, salt scrubs and a calm relaxing atmosphere. Some more traditional ones are outside the city where naturally heated springs provide soothing and relaxation while being removed from the hustle and bustle.
Sadly, most people live within cities where stress is also the most prevalent. Here, you see a less “natural” facility but your body will enjoy it all the same.
At Ooedo-Onsen-Monogatari, in Odaiba, Tokyo people can get a mini vacation in a place close enough to home to make regular visits possible. I was struck by how much your mood shifts when everyone is given a yukata (Japanese robe).
Your robe is your ticket around the common area. Here, everyone engages in games, food, even just sitting and talking. Elsewhere you can have a massage or relax in the appropriately named, “quiet room.” it’s a room filled with recliners and personal TVs for each and every person using a chair. Many people nap here or they just enjoy watching some TV without distraction. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the comfort because many Onsens never close.
Spa World, in Osaka, is one such place. It is a five story, 24/7 spa with enough baths and treatments to cure what ails you. In fact, many people treat these Onsens like a first class bed. Many tired business people will come from work to the onsen, sleep and relax the night away, and then head to work in the morning refreshed.
I don’t think us, in Vancouver, have such a place. I mean, we have spas but not like this and not in this way. To us, spas are extremely rare fancy pampering experiences. In Japan the onsen is seen more like the way we see a gym or rec center. But where we may prioritize fitness we forget that stress is something different people carry in different ways.
So I submit to you. What stresses you out? How do you manage it? For some, stress is something we just manage. But when it becomes like a epidemic and a sickness people require treatment, and in Japan, they know that. So, to live in Japan, you’ll need to work extremely hard but in order to manage that stress you may also need to relax harder then you ever had to before.