The Luxury of Time

May 13, 2011

A Different Kind of Luxury

I work in a library and see hundreds of books every day.  I read more books than anyone else I know.  So when I say that A Different Kind of Luxury:  Japanese Lessons in Simple Living and Inner Abundance by Andy Couturier is the best book I’ve read all year, you should know that this recommendation does not come lightly.

Couturier introduces us to 11 Japanese artists and farmers who have consciously chosen a rural life of little money.  They’ve resisted the cultural pressures to conform to lives with salaried jobs (and this pressure is intense in Japan), and have fashioned instead lives grounded in nature, with space for their imaginations and philosophic thoughts, incredibly rich in time and inner satisfactions.

I was impressed with how many hats these individuals wear — farmers, teachers, artists, potters, community activists, musicians, parents, etc.  and yet their lives are “suffused in timelessness, in an endless present.”  Slow, but rich.

Couturier says, “Time is what we have in this life, and how we use it determines what our life is.  Why is it that so many people start to value money so much that they trade in most of the hours and years of their life in order to get it?”

Gufu Watanabe, diarist, illustrator, farmer, botanist, and potter says, “It is important to me to be someone who has time . . . There’s a term we have in Japanese, furyu:  the characters are ‘wind’ and ‘flow.’  Someone with furyu has time to write haiku, or can appreciate flowers, and they have space in their emotions to look at the moon or the stars.  They’re not too busy working or making money.  Those people who don’t have furyu are not full people.”

These people interviewed for this book often choose to do work manually rather than buy modern conveniences, because “convenience just speeds you up,” says Asha Amemiya, farmer, textile artist, author and illustrator.  Couturier says, “A craftsperson’s job is half meditation, half creation.  It takes creativity to design whatever you are working on, but it takes meditation to do it right.  Making things with one’s own hands cultivates a certain generosity and openness of the heart.  It nourishes that state of mind in the craftsperson themselves, which is intimately connected with an entire way of life.”

I savored reading these intimate portraits.  It is inspiring to read about people who have chosen to live such unconventional lives.  Their words resonate with me, especially in this year when I am thinking about the lessons of Thoreau’s experiment at Walden Pond.

I’ll leave you with the words of Osamu Nakamura, woodblock artist, handmade bookbinder, cook and traveler: “Doing nothing all day — it’s difficult at first.  Being busy is a habit, and a hard one to break.”