There’s a tip I tell everyone who visits Japan for the first time.
A subtle shift in the way they approach a sightseeing attraction. A way to view the whole culture, system, and beauty and its vast contrasts all in a moment.
If you miss it, the subtlety, you’d probably never know.
And, for many people it likely wouldn’t even alter their whole trip that much either.
But the subtlety matters to me. It’s in this slight shift in perspective that a whole new world opened up to me.
There’s this busy market street in Tokyo, Japan, that many people have even heard of. A street of extreme fashions coupled with the intricacies of tourists and fashionists coming and going.
And not your regular high street high fashion either.
In Harajuku – anything goes.
It’s part of the charm of the place. A retro grunge store right next door to a lace and frills store right next door to a cartoon costume shop.
What I love about the place is that most people have become familiar with Harajuku and the fashion of the “Harajuku Girls” – who aren’t phased by what people think of them and who stand on the bridge near the station ready to pose for selfies with passerbys..
Yet what I’m familiar with is more of the cross-section of the neighbourhood.
Standing outside the station facing forward you have Takeshita Street – iconic for all that I’ve described above.
Yet if you’re willing to see things with a slightly new perspective, a new lens, or venture further afield – just a couple of streets away is the Manhattan 5th Avenue equivalent.
And (here’s my favourite part), if you turn around completely and head behind the station you actually enter an incredible sanctuary. You pass through temple gates and meander through a long walkway through trees. Making you feel like you are worlds away from one of the busiest market strips.
At the end of your stroll you come upon a large, old and incredibly traditional temple. One of (if not the) oldest in all of Tokyo.
The place feels so removed from the modern Harajuku scene, and yet so perfectly in place.
It’s my favourite tip to give Japan visitors (to turn around and head backwards into the temple grounds to reveal the contrast) because for so many of us we just keep going forward. Taking the next step that others may have recommended. Or that we “saw on TV”.
What if – with just a subtle shift in perspective – there was this whole other world waiting for you?
What if, that thing that’s really bugging you right now and wearing you down had a whole other side to it? That once revealed could instead leave you feeling like you’re in those tranquil temple grounds?
It’s a subtle yet powerful metaphor for all of life really. And one that really sticks with me.
We can coexist with contrasts all around us. You can love your best friend and really not like her taste in music. You can love going out and equally be drawn to Friday nights on the couch.
You can feel stressed and still find moments of calm.
You can experience challenges and still feel joy.
And, most importantly, the choice is always yours. Which way will you turn to explore today?