Shabbat fascinates me. It’s been 7 years since I’ve lived in Israel, but I find myself thinking about it no matter where I am. For observant Jews, the day of rest begins at sunset on Friday evening and concludes at sunset on Saturday evening.
I lived in Jerusalem: where the day of rest is pretty serious business. Every Friday evening, Jerusalem would transform from a heaving chaotic city to a quiet contemplative town. The metamorphosis is instantaneous and unforgettable. The shift back from Shabbat into working life: one big celebration.
We humans need to work. We also need to rest.
Most of the people I met in Israel were a hardworking bunch. Shabbat insisted on that compulsory day of rest. Whilst I didn’t follow all the ‘rules’ that came with Shabbat, I enjoyed the spirit of it.
Take time out. Spend time with loved ones. Invite guests to your home to break bread. Eat lots of food. Think about life and the nature of the universe.
There is a reason why it is a commandment. We humans need rest desperately. We need that time to recharge, rejuvenate and reenergise. In a crowded world with so many things competing for our attention, we need to enforce that piece of peace once a week.
Japan is a country full of workaholics. It’s an Asian thing. I grew up in an Asian country. I get it. Laziness is not an option. You have to work hard. And work hard we do. If we work 7 days straight without a day off, it shows our dedication.
But is this ‘dedication’ making us more productive?
I don’t think so.
In Singapore and in Japan, we’re expected to show that we’re serious about our jobs. We have to get things done. We have societies that are affluent and for the most part function really well. Health care is good. The trains are rarely late. Our countries are clean. We show up at work earlier than expected and leave later than we’re supposed to.
Working hard is such a big thing in so many Asian societies that we don’t value working smart. And then we have major meltdowns, severe emotional problems and sometimes even end up doing the unspeakable.
We give our all to work. We even show up when we’re sick. It shows we’re dedicated. But how can we possibly be productive on those days? Do we just show up at work to spread the germs we carry to those who have the misfortune of working with us?
I never know what to think when I see someone wearing one of these.
We need to stop, slow down and give to ourselves and our loved ones. Otherwise life just isn’t quite worth living.
Last weekend, I did just that.
I can’t recreate Shabbat in Japan. But what I can do, is enjoy the beauty, simplicity and abundance that is present in the nature in this country.
Sakura in April. Red momijis in autumn. The short-lived seasons of spring and autumn – when Mother Nature is not at one of her scary extremes – is the best time of the year to go hiking.
I worked non-stop all of last week. I’ve been working on the weekends and was totally zonked when I opened my eyes at 7am on Sunday.I’m tired and haven’t been sleeping much. The last thing I wanted to do was the Kamakura Ten-en Hiking Course 天園ハイキングコース.
We all have those days where all we want to do is stay in and do nothing. Last Sunday was one of those days. I somehow managed to get my act together. I don’t like to cancel on people if we’ve made plans.
A short train ride later, I was at Yoh Shomei Museum, near Kitakamakura Station. I hesitated a little when I found it was an art museum. I’m not an art connoisseur. When it comes to art, I only know two things – it pleases my eyes or it doesn’t. But my partner in crime reckoned I would like it.
Some people just know.
Yoh Shomei’s work is stunning. Simple. Innocent yet not naive. Deep. Pure. I was moved. Speechless. Still am.
One of Yoh Shomei’s paintings. The picture doesn’t do his work justice.
I read one of his books – Wind from the Sea. The artwork, oh the artwork. I may not know art, but I can appreciate beauty.
His work is just…something. If I wasn’t so adverse to accumulating stuff, I would have bought some of his artwork – and I’m not even the kind of person who does that.
After the museum, the hike began. Growing up, I always felt closer to the ocean than I ever did to the mountains. I like swimming. Hanging out by the beach. Water is my element. You can just flow.
Although Japan is an island country, things aren’t built up around the ocean as they are in many other places around the world because of the high risk of tsunamis.
These days, I’ve love hiking. There’s nothing like spending time with nature to renew yourself. Yea – Mother Nature can be terrifying in Japan with her earthquakes and tsunamis, but she’s also beautiful, elegant and brilliant.
So I hiked. I accepted what Mother Nature had to offer. And she does give. She gives a lot. She feeds us, doesn’t she?
And then something happened that almost made me cry. I’ve made so many bentos for so many people over the past decade – ever since I learnt how to cook.
Last weekend – for the first time in my life, someone made one for me.
So we spent an hour checking out the view while I quietly ate a packed lunch I didn’t have to cook. I expressed many times how tasty it was – but what I didn’t know how to express was how much I appreciated the gesture.
Simple. Innocent yet not naive. Deep. Pure. I was moved. Speechless. Still am.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Israel or in Japan. Everyone needs a day off. It’s what keeps us sane.
Take the day off. Treat yourself – or let someone treat you. You deserve it. And above everything else – it’s good for you.