Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Looking More Deeply Can Help Us to Let Go

年末 Nenmatsu, the end of the Year, is a very busy time in Japan and stressful, too. But, the stress that people are feeling usually has little to do with Christmas shopping or other Christmas related stress that you may be familiar with at this time of the year. In fact, if Christmas doesn't fall on a weekend it is business as usual in Japan. The following photos are of a white board in one of the classrooms of the senior high school where I teach in Kumamoto City, Japan. Written on the board is the schedule for December. Do you notice anything, or rather the lack of anything?

(Photos taken by the Author, shows 課外 Kagai, Extra curricular lessons run from the 21st to the 28th with a 休み Yasumi, one day Break on the 25th. No mention of Christmas other than the fact that it is written in Green and Red)

People here are too busy, it seems, to celebrate Christmas the way a North American would expect. Busy with what you ask? Well, the list is long and it depends on where you are in life. If you are a student, the end of the year is time for exams; either 2nd semester mid-terms (because the academic year begins in March and ends in February), or preparing for the dreaded university entrance exams known as the センター試験 Senta (Centre) Shiken. If you are working, 社会人 Shakai jin, it is income tax time! There are also many year end meetings. The list goes on, but I will save you the burden of having to read through it. I just want to stress that, 'Fun, fun, Happy Holidays', doesn't really come to mind when reading through a list of responsibilities of Japanese people at this time of year. There is also a kind of 'mad dash' to get everything done in time for the New Year, 新年 Shin nen so that a relaxing, お正月O Shou gatsu, may be spent. I have talked about my O Shou gatsu experiences in previous posts. I have been saddened by this disattachment from the Christmas that I experienced as a child growing up in Canada. However, there is something special about this time of year in Japan and, personally, it has helped me through some pretty tough times and positively contributed to my growth and development in karate-do as well as the quality of my life in general. I am talking of the custom of 忘年 Bou Nen. Simply translated this means "forgetting the hardships of the old year" (JED-Japanese English Dictionary-Google Play, 2016). But, there is nothing simple about letting go of past hardships. I would bet that many of you reading this are still holding on to things from years past that are still affecting you negatively. If not for this custom of Bou Nen, I would be carrying around a lot more hardships with me, this I can say with confidence. It is not an easy thing to do, but necessary things in physical and emotional growth never are.

The facade of Bou Nen is extensive drinking parties with co-workers, friends, and maybe even family and extended family members, i.e. your community.

(Copyright (C) 2016 NEWSY Inc.. All Rights Reserved.)

But, the drinking parties are merely a facilitator to something much deeper; a time to reflect, 反省 Hansei. This is the time when you take to reflect upon and address all of the burdens and stresses of the year, done on to you and caused by you, inflicted on those within your community in the aims of letting go, forgiving, and moving on! For me, this has played a significant role in deepening my understanding of my place here in Japan.

It is a process that is very personal and seldom talked about and therefore, may seem just like another party where the total aim for some seems to be just to get drunk. This may be the case for some, but for others it is yet another opportunity for deep intrinsic growth. I like to think of my life's journey as if I am on a path and there are many roads set out before me, my growth and development, my successes and failures are all determined by which path I choose to take; which road I go down and how far I follow it before venturing down another. I'm sure you've heard analogies like this before, even the title of this blog hints, very loudly, to this analogy. The term 空手道 Karate-do further illustrates this frame of thought. So, during the time of extensive drinking parties and all the stress surrounding this time of year, what path, what road will you go down? And for how long will you follow it?

Questions like the ones above, we must ask ourselves whenever we set out on another one of our life's journies. But, at this time of year, according to Bou Nen custom, we are urged to double check what we are carrying in our 'packs', dare I use the metaphor. We have to assess what we really need and what is simply weighing us down, physically and emotionally. It is at this time that we can let go of all that we no longer need. Perhaps it served its purpose or maybe it has been holding us down for way too long. Either way my advice to you is the same advice that I try to follow, during the Bou nen and before the Shin nen, let it go.

(Photo retrieved from,

I'll leave you with this final thought. Continuing with the metaphor of the 'empty cup' (this time I used the image of a 'back pack', but it is the same metaphor) If we do not let go of the things that we no longer need, the things that are only taking up valuable space within ourselves, we will have no room to successfully tackle the new year's resolutions that we intend to make!

No comments:

Post a Comment