Faraway: Get Out of Your World
Your Smiling Face
In Japan, if you ask someone, “How are you?” once in a while, usually from an older person, you’ll get the more formal reply, “I am well, because of all of you.”
There’s a village on Kyushu, the southernmost island of Japan, where once a month they all come together at the community center to share a meal. Upon arrival, each villager tosses whatever money they have left over that month into a basket sitting on a small table in the center of the room. They go about the evening, enjoying one another’s company, sharing their specialties, discussing town matters, and listening to everyone's story. At the end of the evening, they discuss who among them has the greatest need that month and therefore, should take the basket of money home. It doesn’t take long to make the decision. They’ve been doing this for thousands of years. Social connectivity and a strong sense of community are integral to their way of life. Oh, and by the way, Kyushu is one of the top five places in the world that has the most centenarians.
There is a link between longevity and social cohesiveness. Aside from living longer, there are other benefits from having strong social ties. Yesterday, I came across an article in The Guardian with the headline, “Loneliness: a silent plague that is hurting young people most.” The article goes into the duality of our virtual lives; social media can keep us connected, but it also can foster feelings of isolation. There is no substitute for face-to-face communication. Body language plays a major role in our ability to form connections and fulfill our need for emotional attachment. A bouncing yellow happy face on a screen can never replace the effect of seeing an actual smile. Whenever I invite friends over for dinner and they ask what they can bring, I love to respond, “Just bring your smiling face.”
I saw a connection between the story about Kyushu and the article on loneliness. This is America, and we don’t have the cultural traditions of older societies such as Japan. Loneliness is a mental health issue that affects the overall well-being of our communities. I have a friend who lives in Oakland, CA. Every Wednesday evening for the past thirty years, her neighborhood gets together for a pot luck dinner. They don’t toss their leftover cash in a basket for that one among them who is in need financially, but they do generously toss their stories and laughter around the room, filling the baskets of one another’s souls. They leave a little less lonely than when they arrived.
There’s another Japanese phrase: kawaka sen, ‘To meet faces. It is just friendlier.' I came across it while researching Japanese culture prior to traveling there a few years ago. There’s an article in The Guardian by Kate Graham, "The inns and outs of my walk in Japan", which references the expression and talks about walking the ancient Nakasendo highway, all 310 miles, and staying at the minshuku, traditional family-run inns. You might get inspired to take a trip and meet some smiling faces faraway in Japan.