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.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Values, laughter, insects, connoisseurship

As the long luxuriant hours of one of our interviews progresses, tea time often comes around, and the discussions with Atsuko and Gufu veer into dialectics about this or that kind of tea, the grade of the tea, the size of the cut, and the proper kind of tea cup to use when drinking this particular variety, or how the glaze on the cup does or doesn't fit this kind of tea. "Well, let's drink the first cup in the proper fashion… Huh? It's jammed up in the pot! … Oh, it's powdered tea! It's a good quality, but it's cheaper because it's powdered!"

I admit to loving this minutiae of connoisseurship, even as I know they are both half-parodying it, laughing at the rarified world of Tea in Japan which they, simultaneously, just happen to know a hell of a lot about.

Now Gufu is wincing as he drinks the tea. "Yaaa! It's too bitter!" Atsuko lets out another gale of laughter, then takes aim at me, "Hey that's like when Andy made the mulled apple cider, with too many spices in it! I remember, you just sucked it up and drank it down like it was supposed to have that much spice in it!"

Interview continued:

Andy:" But Atsuko, when did your life start to diverge from that of others?"

Atsuko: "Oh, OK, that was in 1976-before I went traveling. It was the time when everyone around me, the students, were starting to talk about getting jobs. It occurred to me that once I did find a job, and took it, and began working…most likely it would be hard to quit that kind of life later. For once I started making money, and living the moneyed life, it would be very difficult to shift back to a life without later on. At that time, I thought, if I get old and have no money, and end up poor, well, I'd be alright with that; it wouldn't matter"

As we talk--the bird sounds, their lyrical calls, and the crescendoing insects, who then fade back into the silence of the afternoon are always placing itself in my earshot, reminding me of the place Atsuko and Gufu have chosen to live. From outside, I can also feel the moisture of the air and the scents of the plants that live on the wealth and fertility of the soil, making me aware too of the permeability of the house itself--Japanese architecture not walling off the outside world--and each of these things keeps up its gentle reminder of what it is that is valuable to these people, and, I recognize, to me.

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