Have you ever traveled to a place that made you feel like you’ve been given a new set of eyes ?, Or which proved that sometimes things can actually be as beautiful as you thought they would be ? That’s how I felt when my husband and I spent two weeks in Japan this past September.
Shortly after our arrival at Tokyo Haneda Airport, we were walking towards the exit when we came upon a huge flower installation, the kind you might see at a botanical garden or cultural institution, but not typically at an airport. It was carefully designed and perfectly installed. I knew right away that our two weeks would be too short.
We planned our trip to take us to Tokyo, Kyoto, Mount Koya, Okayama, Naoshima, Takayama and back to Tokyo. While we chose each place for its unique characteristics, there were unifying elements present everywhere we went. In each place we visited, there was evidence of a certain understanding of man’s relationship both with nature and with beauty that I often find myself looking for. It is a quiet yet unquestionable beauty, striking yet unassuming. Perhaps the strongest example of this was the Chichu Art Museum designed by Tadao Ando. Inconspicuously inserted into the landscape of the the island of Naoshima ( nicknamed Art Island), it encapsulated everything I loved most about Japan. Sunlight is filtered through the ceilings and shed down to illuminate the galleries, the building itself disappears into the nature around it, and there is a garden in homage to Monet’s Giverny outside. That’s not even getting into the amazing artworks by James Turrell, Monet and Walter de Maria on display. Best of all, this unique museum exists on a little island in the Seto Inland Sea.
Japan also communicated an ever-present appreciation and cultivation of simplicity, the successful representation of which is anything but simple to achieve. The ideas of Wabi-sabi and Kintsugi are examples of the way Japanese culture has recognized the inherent, simple beauty in nature and its imperfection, even managing to translate it into something practical. Ikebana, then, could be considered the embodiment of those philosophies in flowers. Basically Japan was a place where I observed form meet function in the most graceful way I can imagine. It felt like just about everything one can endeavor to do is treated like an art and that was inspiring to say the least.
After seeing everything we could in the time we had, we pack our bags and returned to Rome, wishing for a few more bowls of ramen and a few more days to explore the gardens and forests that were so green they almost glowed. The thing is, when we landed I realized the trip wasn’t really over. It turned out that spending time in a place so very different from where I live now made me appreciate the sights, sounds, light and lines of Rome in a whole new way. I fell in love with the city all over again just like I had fallen in love with Japan, and I’ve been looking at my city differently ever since. That said, I’m still searching for a good bowl of ramen here in Rome to help transport me back to Japan, if only for a few minutes.