How to do a Mental Reboot

Last night, I went to Friday evening aikido training at Minato-ku, showered and headed the Yokohama Station bus terminal, bought pizza and a beer on the way, and after arriving at the bus terminal, sat and waited for my bus to come, eating my pizza and beer. I’d sweated a little at practice, so I relished the tomatoes on the pizza margherita as they burst in my mouth, and the tingly coolness of the beer. Simple pleasure. I often read when I eat alone, which I truly enjoy, so to fully concentrate on eating just then was a pleasure.

At 10:45, I boarded my bus, read, and when we stopped at a service area at Ashikaga just past midnight, got off to brush my teeth, then read some more on the bus, and slept.

When I stepped off the bus at 7:45 this morning, I found myself in Shingu. Fun time-space warp effect. I have to smile. This is my fifth time in Shingu, and three of those times, I have taken regular trains, a twelve-hour journey. Traveling by regular train, there is definitely the sense of time passing. Scenery changes from the Tokyo megalopolis, heading southwest along the urbanized Eastern Seaway, buildings giving way to wide fields of Aichi Prefecture, then one final urban megalopolis in the form of Nagoya City, then down south along the eastern coast of Mie Peninsula. As soon as one passes Nagoya, the accents change from the flat accent of the Edo Plain to a more lilting accent of western Japan. I can hear it in the chattering of passengers and in the conductor’s annoucements. For me, having spent my first months in Japan and subsequent vacations in western japan, the effect is akin to when I go home to Georgia, and transit through Washington D.C. or Chicago. The accents change when I change planes. Hearing the accent change is the first welcome that I get. The last time I came, I came by express train, and the effect was similar, but much speeded-up.

This time, though, space-time warp, the effect compounded by the bus driver having had us draw the curtains closed around the bus. Having stepped into a darkened box in Tokyo, I stepped out of a darkened box into Shingu, more well-rested than I’d figured on being. Very nice.

I thought I’d stop by McDonalds on the way to the Dojo to get breakfast and coffee, but when I got there it was dark inside. Had they gone out of business? I looked around and saw a sign that said 9:30-20:00. It was past eight. Here’s a small-town McDonald’s that doesn’t do breakfast.

I only passed two other people walking as I headed toward the dojo. I thought to myself that I appreciate the quiet, but that I have also grown to like the bustle of the city. The personality of the cities comes out in the dojos. Honbu Dojo has lots of good, positive energy, but I find myself talking very little in general. Naturally we greet each other and chat a little, but generally people need to leave soon. Tokyo is a place where people run full speed toward their dreams, and it feels very odd to simply saunter along. Kumanojuku Dojo in Shingu has lots of good, positive energy, as well, but things are less formal. With the flattened hierarchy, people give each other more advice during practice. And people have more time. Hakama-folding extends into a small talk session, and frequently into a bit of extra practice. In mindset, there’s more sauntering than running.

One should, as Thoreau urges, feel free to march to the beat of a different drummer, but it is so nice to find a place where the people are marching at the tempo that one wants to march. This feeling of finding a rhythm is what I felt when I first threw myself into the dashing energy of Tokyo, and what I felt after being well into my sabbatical year in 2012, when I first discovered the strolling laid-backness of Shingu.

Being out of step with one’s surroundings is not easy. One of my English friends started having panic attacks in Tokyo, and he was completely cured of them when he moved into the countryside, and a counterexample is a young artist named Kobo Hamada from Shikoku I once met at a small exhibition in Tokyo. His video art featured short films that he showed on small tablets that hung on a wall. Two I remember well. One was a young man and woman who ran away from a group of friends and got lost in the woods together. There was an accident, and I think both of them died. Another was a man alone in a tall grassy field with a drum and an electric guitar. He made sounds by throwing them to the ground. The drum sounded with a thud as it hit the ground and had a lingering resonance, and the guitar when it hit the ground emitted the twang as all of its strings were set into vibration. Eventually the fingerboard broke off.

I asked him where he got his inspiration, and he said that he was trying to depict the mentality of people where he was from. The feeling of having grown so rooted to a place that it is impossible to move. The feeling of seeing people move away and the countryside hollow-out, but being unable to move. I thought, just as I need vacations to the countryside, this man needs to take more vacations to the city.

Arriving a the Dojo, I came upon Tim, speaking with a student from a neighboring town, whom I’d only ever seen in his Aikido uniform, but from his rubber boots and pocketed windbreaker, gave me the impression of being a fisherman. They had just finished morning practice. Morning practice ends at 7:30, but they’d stuck around for awhile – it was 8:30. They were talking about visiting shrines, and what walks were nice. The conversation is remarkable only in that it is so seldom that I shoot the breeze or come across people shooting the breeze in Tokyo. I think I have a lot to learn or remember here.

Tim asks me what I want to do while I’m here. I tell him I’m here to train, to meditate under a waterfall, and to do the torch run. Outwardly, I am here for these things. Inwardly, I’ve found as I start on my 3rd decade that I’ve become more controlling, more regimented in my life, and slower to make friends. These are things that I’ve learned but that I don’t need. I hope that with training I will sweat it out, that the waterfall will wash it away, and that the fire I carry from the shrine on the mountaintop will be drawn into my body, and I will carry it back with me to Tokyo.

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