Lingering Dragons: Reflecting on My Japan Journey

japan-dragon

Though I’m now three months removed from my adventures in Japan, there are still so many moments and memories that swirl around in my mind. Stepping into another culture is one of the most profound ways to expand your beliefs and hopefully, take in a little bit of what you’ve experienced to better yourself.

There is an incredible sense of pride in Japan, but it is expressed quietly. To the foreigner’s eye, it manifests itself in clean cities, polite citizens and diligent workers. It was an eye-opening contrast to America’s loud and boastful attitude. During a brief conversation with an enthusiastic elderly Japanese man at a museum, he cheerfully explained how he liked so many things about America but is sad that modern Americans are essentially sitting on the laurels of our previous generations. “America,” he explained with a large smile, “is an old dragon.”

As I visited temples, shrines and teahouses throughout Japan, the dragon-based artistry decorating these places reminded me of his words. There are times when I feel like quite the old dragon myself. I wondered if it was a direct result of my own culture, the fast paced, loud society that thrives on youthful virtues and headstrong values. The craving for recognition is rewarded in America and can sometimes get in the way of the actual contributions and hard work one is capable of.

The best example of this was my visit to a place with great personal significance to any video game aficionado – the Nintendo World Headquarters in Kyoto. Located in a crowded but otherwise plain section of the city, the building was neatly framed with a white brick wall. The office itself was also white, spotlessly clean and modern. It was here that the actual work was done, without fanfare. While the end product has made a rotund plumber as ubiquitous as Mickey Mouse, I liked the fact that where the hard work was done had an air of professionalism and modesty.

Here it is, the Nintendo World Headquarters in Kyoto. Rather plain, eh?

Here it is, the Nintendo World Headquarters in Kyoto. Rather plain, eh?

In my own life, my own successes – or at least the ones I pin my ego to – are growing further and further into the past. I wrote a phrase down from a plaque I saw in Kumamoto Castle; in Japanese it is Katte kabuto no o o shimeyo, which translates loosely to “Tighten the string of the kabuto after winning the war” (a kabuto is a type of helmet worn by Japanese samurai warriors).

As we enter the new year, I’ve metaphorically tightened my kabuto because it’s been a while since I’ve had the focus and diligence that had brought me prosperity in previous years. Besides, I’m not quite ready to be an old dragon yet.


JamesDziezynski_headshotJames Dziezynski is a freelance writer based in Colorado, and the author of the best-selling guidebook “Best Summit Hikes in Colorado.” To read about more of his adventures, visit his blog at www.mountainouswords.com.

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