Looking after your mental health is important, especially in a fast-paced world that is driven by digital experiences. While everyone has their own mental health coping techniques, it’s good to examine different cultures and gain an appreciation for their practices. Japan has a rich tradition of self-improvement concepts, such as ikigai, which is all about finding a purpose.
Erin Niimi Longhurst’s Japonisme provides insight into the rationale behind ikigai and other Japanese self-improvement techniques. By detailing her own experiences through the lens of her heritage, Longhurst has written a fascinating book that is inspiring from a mental health perspective.
Mental health for the mind, heart and body
Longhurstbreaks Japonisme down into several core features, which includes kokoro (the heart and mind, karada (the body) and shukanka (forming the habit). In each section of the book, Japanese mentalities are explored and explained, like kintsugi, the finding of beauty in imperfection.
Kintsugi is the art of restoring broken pottery with golden lacquer and appreciating the fact that the pottery has become more visually pleasing. From a mental health point of view, I find the idea of kintsugi to be extremely powerful because it’s meant to represent how even the most ‘broken’ person can learn to love their flaws.
Longhurst elegantly explains the metaphor by saying
“in the same way that you need to the bitter in order to taste the sweet, the struggles we all face – loss, betrayal, heartbreak, disappointment – are a part of our histories, our identities and our stories. And rather than hiding the scars that they leave, kintsugi encourages us to celebrate them.”
Another Japanese practice I found interesting was the concept of shinrin-yoku/forest therapy. There’s something freeing about the idea of wandering around in a forest and truly letting yourself appreciate the tranquility of nature. I enjoyed reading this section for the bounty of beautiful Japanese words that describe natural phenomenon that have no direct English translation. Two of my favourites are:
- Komorebi – A word that describes rays of sunlight filtering through the leaves of trees.
- Kawaakari – A word that describes how moonlight reflects off a river.
A range of mindful practices
Other positivemental health concepts in Japonisme include the art of ikebana (flower arrangement) and sado (The Way of The Tea). Both disciplines require a high level of attention and I found myself appreciating how much effort that masters of their craft put into tasks as simple as flower arrangement and tea preparation.
Throughout the pages, Longhurst describes various Japanese proverbs e.g. ‘the prime of your life does not come twice’ and how they can be applied to self-improvement. Many of the proverbs are accompanied by beautiful illustrations, adding to the appeal of the book.
Longhurst connects all the concepts together through the story of her own life, which creates an authentic connection with the reader. Her writing style is genuine, thoughtful and relatable. And it’s that authenticity that makes Japonisme a great book to read.
Whether you have experienced mental health difficulties or not, it’s never a bad thing to broaden your horizons about a new culture. Japonisme will introduce you to a different way of thinking about the world, and in my opinion, that can only help with personal growth.