About Exotic or Zen in the Rain

Last weekend was a rainy one. With a typhoon passing through Western Japan, many of us living in and around Tokyo spent it at home, some cleaning, some having quality time with families or kids, yet some others enjoying an interesting book, a good movie or just dreaming while listening to the rain outside.

I ended up with a mix of the above and can conclude that a lazy weekend is not a bad thing, at least once in a while. With Yiruma quietly playing in the background, a cup of my favorite Marco Polo thé vert from Mariage Fréres and a vintage edition of “The Art of Travel” by Alain de Botton in hand, this is what I call small pleasures in life.

Rainy day…

The book proved to be an interesting and different look at all aspects of travel: why we do that, how anticipation inevitably differs from the reality, and why most of us tend to search for something exotic, whatever the definition of the “exotic” we may have.

“In the more fugitive, trivial association of the word exotic, the charm of a foreign place arises from the simple idea of novelty and change – from finding camels where at home there are horses, for example, or unadorned apartment buildings where at home there are pillared ones. <…> What we find exotic abroad may be what we hunger for in vain at home”. (Alain de Botton, The Art of Travel)

Here I remember one Japanese colleague, who, after a year and a half in Paris returned back to japan and was giving a presentation about his life in France. He traveled quite a lot around Europe and eventually found himself tired of churches and castles as … they all looked the same.

At first I could not understand how churches and castles around Europe can be “the same”! Then I realized that I am experiencing something similar in Japan. After two years I am losing interest in temples, shrines, or Japanese castles for that matter, as… at some point they all started looking the same… with only rare exceptions.

Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto, on a rainy day.

At another time, on a similarly rainy day (yet, please don’t get me wrong, it was not a typhoon!), I was visiting Fushimi Inari Taisha, a shrine in Kyoto. Everyone has seen photos with thousands of red torii gates lined up one after another and it is indeed one of the most visited tourist spots. However, even there you can end up completely alone at times.

All alone at one of the most popular tourist spots in Japan?

Head shrine for Inari, the patron of business, is located at a foot of Mount Inari. Since Edo period (1603 – 1868) merchants and other businessmen donated torii gates to either get their wish come true or to thank when it actually happened. Currently there are about ten thousand red torii gates lined along the path that goes around and to the top of the mountain.

Light at the end of the tunnel?

or a bit more rain and mist going down…

While at the start of the trail, it gets really crowded, do not get scared away. The further you go, the less people you see and the closer to the top, the more silent it gets. On a gloomy or rainy day the place can feel as completely out of this world.

Twilight zone

To enjoy it or not is up to individual… If exotic or not may depend on whether you are visiting from far or live nearby…

View from under a bright orange umbrella 🙂

The truth is that places we visit are different in reality than what we imagine when reading tour guide. Nice photos and praising descriptions form an image in our minds that does not include any side (potentially) inconvenient aspects, like rain, humidity, wet feet, long and tiring trip and etc.

As Alain de Botton puts it at the end of one chapter, “it seems we may best be able to inhabit a place when we are not faced with the additional challenge of having to be there”.

Would you agree?

What do you do on a rainy day?

Would you stay indoors or go out to travel, explore and search for something “exotic”?

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