• Dr Patrick Finn

What is Japanese for joie de vivre?

Joie de vivre, or the joy of living, is a phrase you probably know. Paris is the world’s most popular tourist destination, and that surely has much to do with the way life operates in that great city, and in the country surrounding it. In Canada, the phrase is used when speaking about Quebec, and for the cities of Montreal and Quebec City, which are among our most popular tourist destinations. Once again, popular writing about these places speaks of a way of living that is the central reason people want to spend time visiting.

My work takes me to a lot of different places. That sounds more exciting than it is because travel for me involves more hours working than touring new locations. Still, it offers a little time to see new places and meet new people. Like most, I love cities like New York, London, Paris, and Berlin. I spent time in Shanghai a couple summers ago, and it was magnificent. I cannot wait to return to China.

After all my years of travel, something changed this summer when I visited Japan.

As sometimes happens, the experience was nothing like I expected. Certain cities live up to their mythology. New York does, whereas Los Angeles does not. Though in Los Angeles’s defence it would be hard to live up to the many worlds that have been created there and sent to screens around the world.

There is so much media coverage of Tokyo that I had an idea of what the city would be like. It was nothing like what I saw in film and television or read in books. I need to be cautious how far I go in my claims. I was only there for two weeks. I need to go back and spend more time. Still, I am confident when declaring my love for Japan because every second of that two weeks contained something I now know well, although I have no name for it. When I met a friend in Sendai, I shared my feelings and tried to capture them using the idea of a Japanese phrase for joie de vivre. I don’t mean literally of course, that would be an easy enough affair, but I think you probably understand what I am trying to get at.

I work in performance, so I study the way people do what they do, when they do what they do. My time in Japan was like a trip to a performance expert’s amusement park. Everywhere I turned were new examples of elegant, thoughtful ways to do the things we all do every day, but with a care and attention you rarely see. When I returned to Canada, I spoke with a friend who spends a lot of time in Japan and who shares her love of Japan and Japanese culture. I said to her, “Japan just does civilization better than the rest of us.”

It is all personal preference of course, and perhaps it is an infatuation that cannot last, but I love the way Japan performs. I still love all the cities I have always loved, and there are many places I have never seen that I am sure I would love. But for now, whatever the Japanese equivalent of joie de vivre is, is as close to bliss as I can imagine.

I do not take pictures when I travel because it distracts me from being in the place I am in, so these are my only photos. The one is from the highest spot in Tokyo, taken because I was asked to send a picture. The other is one I wanted. I was on an escalator heading down when I saw the invitation for visitors to return. I scrambled to get my phone out and catch the one picture I wanted to keep. It was my way of saying, “yes, I will be back. Thank you for asking.”

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