The weeks leading up to cherry blossom season in Washington, D.C., are packed with much anticipation and excitement. Every year, thousands of visitors plan their journey in hopes that their timing will be just right. This season, the National Park Service’s prediction was moved a few days ahead of the original forecast due to warmer weather, but the public health crisis caused by COVID-19 forced local officials to close nearby roads and Metro stops. I toyed with the idea of taking an early morning walk while still practicing social distancing but the message was clear: Stay home.
It’s a challenging time for everyone, but thanks to technology and modern shipping, we can still view the blooms from home and enjoy some festivities with sake delivered to our door! Organizers of the festival recently launched a virtual experience featuring a beautiful tour of the trees and the Tidal Basin, performances by acts originally scheduled to perform at the opening ceremony, and the continuation of the online auction. Yes, spring looks and feels different this year but such creative efforts do offer some consolation.
As we rearrange the spaces in our homes and in our minds, waiting for things to return to normal, we might ask, What else can we do to experience the renewal that many of us are searching for? Just as I’ve always turned to good Japanese cuisine for comfort, so do I turn to Japanese culture for insight. Contemplating these questions led me to read about principles of Japanese design, from which emerged three that I thought were easiest to comprehend and most applicable in our time of need. The others required more exploration and a deeper understanding, so I’ll defer to the experts of Japanese philosophy!
Kanso (簡素) = simplicity
Kanso is described as “simplicity”, which is rather hard to find in our complex lives given how intertwined we all are, and how we live by the clock and by design. It’s also described as “the exclusion of non-essential”. Step into an authentic Japanese hotel or restaurant, and you’ll see this really come to life with neat and clutter-free spaces, clean lines, and the integration of nature indoors.
As I spend more time at home, I’m reminded that the simplest things are worth pursuing because they are most essential to our lives: food to fuel our bodies, a space and shelter, and connection to other human beings or to a cause that drives us. So much of our lives and our homes are filled with trinkets of non-essential items that weigh us down! Working towards simplicity can help us feel more lifted and free. This sake by Higashiyama Brewing Company is the ideal sake companion for this pursuit and inspired by Zen Buddhism.
Datsuzoku (脱俗) = freedom from habit
It is very true that we are creatures of habit and most of us take comfort in a perpetual routine. The current pandemic has challenged our productivity and ways of life in unprecedented ways, but it’s also brought about incredible waves of creativity, appreciation and charity!
Somehow, being compelled to break away from these hard routines and structures has also given us room to be more open and creative in our approaches—in the way we communicate, the way we deliver, the way we give of ourselves to others. I really love this message and this sake by Tenzan Brewing Company that exemplifies the unexpected gifts that can come from datsuzoku.
Seijaku (静寂) = serenity in the midst of activity
Have you ever been to Central Park in the middle of bustling Manhattan? It is an amazing sanctuary in the maze of concrete and busyness. But seijaku does not just mean free from noise; rather it is a state of tranquility and feeling “untroubled.” Of the three concepts listed here, this is probably the most challenging to carry out, especially if you find yourself suddenly working and living with several people under one roof (whether they be your mini-me’s, extended family, an extra body in the basement under self-quarantine, or loving partner with whom you suddenly have to share everything with, including breathing space—I mean—home office!). But fret not! We all have a sphere of serenity in our core.
Turn to strategies that help filter out unnecessary activities and transactions, and focus on what’s most important: your sanity and connection with people you care about. This sake by Ippongi Kubohonten (“Ippongi” meaning, “supreme truth, a state that achieves the greatest knowledge”) is a solid sidekick.