Raised in the tumult of Japan’s industrial powerhouse, the 11 men and women profiled in A Different Kind of Luxury have all made the transition to sustainable, fulfilling lives. Based on Andy Couturier's popular articles in The Japan Times, this lushly designed volume has a wealth of stories about real people who have created an abundance of time for contemplation, connecting with the natural world, and contributing to their communities. In their success is a lesson for us all: live a life that matters. Read an excerpt of the book here or here. Read a review of the book here, here, or here.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Interview with Atsuko: "Something out there..."

Here's the raw material for a chapter. This took about four hours to transcribe, translate, and then turn into proper English. The intermediate project:

In the late 70s Atsuko spent years traveling in India and Nepal.

Andy: What was changing inside of you during this time?

Atsuko: Hmmm…that was the period in which I started reading the Bible, and I started reading books on Buddhism that they had at Shantikuti (house of peace, run by Zen Abbot Takaoka in Katmandu.) Well, more than before, I got interested in Buddhism, somehow, there was something, indefinable, in there for me. I allowed Buddhism in. And along the way, I became a vegetarian.

Andy: You said last year that you weren't interested in traveling more, that you felt that you had "gotten" what traveling was. What did you mean by that?

Atsuko: As I was traveling--and I did a lot of kinds of traveling—I realized that if you just keep, keep traveling, you--at some point--aren't able to calm down, and feel at ease. You eventually start to feel that want to settle down. You board a train at night, and it's daaaaark out, and you can see little dottings of lights here and there. Then you think to yourself, 'I'll be in the train station soon, then when I get there, I have to go out and find a place to stay, to spend the night, to sleep.' Thinking about this, seeing the little lights, I got envious of the people in their houses. They have a proper place to sleep, and food to eat. Seems good! (Laughing) What I got was that, wherever you go, every single person, in order to eat, they have to work, even Buddhist monks. They need a place to sleep. No matter what, in the future, I won't be able to escape that.

But also, I could see in Nepal and India, the people's way of life--their lives are very poor--and inside of their houses, there isn't much of anything, almost nothing. And if they go shopping, they don't even put things in bags, sometimes. They just hold on to the vegetables with their hands, or put them in a basket. Whatever things a person has, you can really see it.

You can see their lives. They are very, very simple, but it all seemed incredibly beautiful to me. There don't have many things, and the things they have aren't hidden. If it's vegetables; it's just vegetables, it's not shrink-wrapped vegetable side dishes from the supermarket.

Even now I can remember looking down from the roof of the Shantikuthi lodge, in the early evening onto the street in front, and people were coming and going … going back to their houses. The sky had just a little bit of light, and the crows were crying 'Kaaa, kaaa!' and the street was full of trees, and cows were going through the street in both directions and –what was it?—people were carrying cauliflower--it was that season--and there was someone carrying it on bamboo poles over his shoulders, with two baskets hanging down from each end, and some man who was working in an office somewhere, was putting some cauliflower in his net bag.

I thought to myself, 'Ahh… I can see people are finishing their work, going back to their houses' So that kind of scene had very much the atmosphere and the feeling of a single day's ending. And now they were going home to their family and were beginning to make food--you could really see it.

So even though there was no way to run away from the need for getting food for yourself, and a place to sleep, but this can also be a really wonderful thing. And that is what I felt at that time.

Andy: Before that time, when you were younger, you didn't feel that?

Atsuko: No. Earlier on I had a stronger feeling of 'Maybe there is something else--isn't there?' So before I went traveling, the feeling I had of 'there's something out there, isn't there' was much more of frivolous feeling, you know like a ditzy young girl going 'heee hee!'—when you don't really have your feet on the ground, like in a dream. And I realized I had to change that in myself.

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