I now occupy myself with gathering and curating all the good learnings and nuggets of wisdom I have encountered and picked up along the way for the past seven decades. I want to take a closer look at them and savor their deeper significance not just for my spiritual sustenance but more importantly to share them with kindred spirits who are seeking enlightenment and still maturing towards full golden ripeness.
In Japan, there are boxed ready-to-be-eaten meals called ekiben (combination of eki for train station and bento for lunch box.) These are sold on trains and at train stations, and those going on a long trip have a wide choice of these meal boxes. Each box comes with a set of disposable chopsticks. Depending on the specific dish, many will also include a packet of soy sauce, some pickled or fresh ginger, or other seasoning.
Let me therefore share with you a metaphorical ekiben for your own life’s journey especially for those going on their last leg. It contains some food for thought, which I cherry picked from Japanese traditions through my readings and conversations with persons who have what we may call “old souls.”
In case you’re asking, no, I don’t speak Japanese. The sprinkling of Nippongo I know consists of common expressions such as arigato, dozo, sumimasen not to mention names of well-known Japanese food such as sushi, tempura, ramen, karage and takoyaki.
However, I still can’t explain why whenever I encounter terms that refer to certain Japanese cultural practices, the words surprisingly resonate with me. In my heart, I instinctively know the philosophical concepts behind them as if I’ve lived them. There is a Japanese term kotodama, which is all about the mystical power of words. That’s the kind of magnetic pull I feel when I come across specific Japanese words.
In half-jest, I tell friends that sometime in my past life I was a Japanese Zen Buddhist monk. Why Zen Buddhist specifically? Because I am contemplative by nature and inclined to be a non-talker. I also love koans and haiku poetry (short enigmatic poetic verses unique to Japanese culture).
In a strange way, they are distinctly Japanese but they are also very Filipino. Or is it because they are rooted in what Carl Jung calls the “collective unconscious” that refer to memories and impulses ingrained in the brain of the whole humankind?
Now with metaphorical chopsticks, let’s open my bento of Japanese traditional beliefs. Think of it as a “baon” for you to bring in your journey.
MONO NO AWARE: The beauty of fleeting existence.
This Japanese term is often translated as “the beauty of impermanence.” The concept tells us that everything, including our own lives, is subject to change and eventual passing. This is symbolized by the sakura or pink cherry blossoms. They mark the ending of winter and signify the beginning of spring. They quickly bloom and then they’re gone, reminding us of the transience of life.
Think of our own concept of “gulong ng kapalaran” and you’ll get a better picture. Knowing this, we are encouraged to appreciate the fleeting and ephemeral nature of life and our experiences of it.
Except for hardcore deniers, we seniors need to accept that our time in this life will soon come to pass. Mono no aware is an invitation to slow down and start finding joy in the small and seemingly insignificant details. Let’s seek beauty not just in the grandiose and the spectacular, but also in the mundane moments and objects of our daily existence.
After a deeper understanding of mono no aware, I have developed a greater respect and gratitude towards not just people but even objects that have served me and continue to serve me well. A desk, a pencil, a notebook, a mug and even living beings like a pet dog or cat contain something of ourselves in them and thus evoke powerful feelings. As we say, “mayroong sentimental value.”
WABI SABI: Acceptance of who we are
Wabi Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic and cultural philosophy which is all about appreciating beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” in nature. All of us are flawed and we’ve made mistakes and we’ve been broken time and again but in spite of that, we’ve managed to put ourselves back together. Our concept of “magandang kalooban” echoes this same sentiment.
A great example of the spirit of Wabi-Sabi at work is Kintsugi, the Japanese art of fixing broken ceramics with golden lacquer to create beautiful, intricate patterns. While many of us might deem a broken bowl or cup as something to be discarded, Kintsugi celebrates the brokenness and makes the cracks an important part of the object’s life history.
Its principles can be applied to our personal growth and relationships. It encourages us to be non-judgmental, accepting, and compassionate towards ourselves as well as others who are flawed like us. Each of us is still beautiful inside. Our concept of “magandang kalooban” echoes this same sentiment.
IKIGAI: Purpose in life.
“Iki” in Japanese means “life,” and “gai” describes value or worth. This Japanese term is getting a lot of searches on the Internet and bandied about by motivational speakers.
What do you love? What are your passions? What are you good at? What gifts do you have that can contribute positively to the world? If you can answer these, then you have realized not just your value as a human being but also your ikigai, your life’s purpose that gives your existence meaning. In Filipino culture, we can probably call it “kapalaran na may kabuluhan o kahulugan.”
When you know your ikigai and understand it fully, you’re aligned with the work you’ve longed to do as well as the role in life you have been destined to live. Each day you wake up is a good day to live.
The Japanese believe that finding and pursuing your ikigai is the key to a long and happy life. You might be interested to know that in Japan the average woman lives up to 88 years while men live up to 81 years. In Okinawa, many natives are still active and leading joyous lives at 100 years or more.
Have ikigai, will live longer and happier. It’s not too late.
GAMBATTE: Give it your all.
Gambatte means “do your best.” Essentially, it is a word used to cheer someone on; to encourage someone to keep it up. It is appropriate for old folks like me who are striving to make our bonus years more meaningful. The closest native equivalent to gambatte is “Puso!” or “Huwag Bumitaw!”
But gambatte is more than just an expression of encouragement. It is about purpose-driven persistence. Not simply about stubbornly pushing forward; it is the art of adapting and evolving one’s strategies to become finally a winner. It tells us to face up to the challenges of growing old; to embrace our limited physical options as seniors with waning abilities. While we may not be as agile as before, we can still score points in life by being creative and harnessing our innate “abilidad” or “diskarte.” As I keep saying to my friends who are disheartened by Father Time, “may asim pa!” We still got some juice left!
On that high note, I now end this short piece. With rice balls of mono no aware, plus packets of ikigai sauce, and gambatte seasoning in your ekiben of Japanese wisdom, you’re now better packed for a more meaningful and fulfilling journey. Just like what our grandkids would say: “Keri mo yan!”