The pursuit of finding balance is a life-long goal that’s forever changing. Everyone has different perspectives on what they need to find peace, whether it’s through spending time with friends, or going for a long walk. Author Akemi Tanaka believes the best way to find balance is with chowa, the Japanese concept of harmony.
In her book, The Power Of Chowa, Tanaka tells the story of her life and pulls back the curtain on what it means to walk your own path in Japanese culture. Soulful, honest and powerful, The Power Of Chowa is a book that’s worth reading.
Chowa isn’t about harmony
Tanaka begins by explaining what chowa means and that it shouldn’t be confused with the English version of what harmony stands for. Instead, chowa represents the constant search for balance in everything that you do. She relates her own experiences from childhood, about how she grew up in rural Musashi, about how she needed to find her own way in a society that values conformity over being unique.
As Tanaka explains “in Japan, the word ‘unique; has strong negative connotation: ‘her style is unique’ has a pointed, slightly unpleasant meaning i.e. she’s doing something really off the wall.” This attitude goes hand in hand with the phrase deru kui wa utareru (the nail that sticks out gets hammered down), which means that anything out of place in Japanese society is met with shock and horror.
But rather than conform, Tanaka chose to find her own style by resisting the notion that she needed to live up to expectations. Having met her in person, I can tell you that she exudes a quiet strength borne from decades of experience.
Finding your own style is just one of several lessons to be learned by embracing chowa. Other interesting sections include how to bring balance at work. And while finding balance with co-workers is important, Tanaka mentions that harmony shouldn’t be about passively accepting circumstances in the workplace and going along with the group.
Other sections that I found very interesting were applying chowa lessons from the Edo period, such as mottanai, the concept of being more sustainable, and sho-yoku, chi-soku (small desire, wise sufficiency).
Standing up for what’s important
Through relating her own experiences, Tanaka paints a vivid picture of the reality of what life is like for many Japanese women. There’s a sense of injustice that comes through and a hope for something better for women all over the world. From the Me Too Movement to the case of Shiori Ito, Tanaka celebrates the resilience of others.
There are other valuable chowa lessons to be gleaned, such as bringing harmony into washoku (the art of food). Tanaka provides a lot of detail about the nature of Japanese food preparation and how ingredients and colours come together in haute cuisine like kaiseki.
“Kaiseki is a meal of modest simplicity, perhaps unexpectedly simple or Japanese haute cuisine. But for a meal devised by monks, it is unexpectedly lavish. As well as the five flavours, kaiseki cooking seeks to balance the five colours of traditional cooking (red, green, yellow, white and black) and the five senses (smell, taste, touch, sound and sight).”
Every section of The Power Of Chowa contains pearls of wisdom that can be applied to everyday living. After reading the book, I feel as if I’ve come to see another side of Japanese culture that I wasn’t previously aware of. I’ve also come to appreciate that finding balance is a balancing act.
And I think that’s the message behind The Power Of Chowa. It’s meant to open your eyes to the possibility of what happens in another culture. That struggling to find balance is felt the world over. And that’s okay because it’s real. It’s human.