What I learned from a Japanese hotel room

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A few months ago I went to Japan.

While some of my favorite memories consist of a gorgeous garden, riding a Ferris wheel over the Yokohama harbor, and eating horse sashimi; I also learned something about myself that shaped the direction of my habits over the following months.

We arrived at our hotel in the middle of the night, and the hotel lobby was small yet classy enough and appeared to cater towards Japanese businessmen and tourists alike.

When we got to our room though, I was somewhat surprised.

It was tiny.

Pictures of Heiwa Plaza Hotel - Hotel Photos

This is where we’d be staying for a week?

Unlike my thoroughly modern first taste of Japan over a decade ago, this wasn’t the Hyatt.  It reminded me of a ship cabin. The closet-sized bathroom was as compact as one could get, and the sink and bathtub shared a faucet. We squeezed to walk between the bed and the walls, and my boyfriend had to initially push the bed away from the desk to sit down and do comfortable work. The closet was a narrow space between the wall and the back of the bathroom. Outside the window was the gray brick of the building across the street.

During the days that followed I surprised myself by my growing fondness for the little room. After being over-stimulated by the mild culture shock of being in a completely new world, the utter utilitarian simplicity of the room was a comforting capsule to return to.

I had been reduced to a child again — spitting out smatterings of disjointed Japanese, mentally flagellating myself for not being more dedicated to my classes back in elementary school.  I clumsily counted out my yen and got lost wandering around the city alone for hours while trying to find Chinatown.

But at the end of the day I would revel in the comfort of being surrounded by all I ever really wanted — a hot shower, fresh bottom (bidet toilet!), clean bed, and cheap but decent rice balls and drinks in the fridge. I loved and appreciated the little water-heating cup that allowed me to make tea in the morning. I enjoyed the Japanese-style robes and the bathroom slippers and how the long and narrow closet let me hang up my sink-washed socks and underwear to dry. My boyfriend and I worked a few feet apart, as opposed to separate rooms, and with no TV or even so much as wall art as a distraction I found my mind shockingly clear for the first time.

I was content and happy and focused.  I fantasized about living out of my suitcase. It felt so freeing to be happy with the comfort of simplicity and convenience.

It was the Occam’s Razor of epiphanies. A line from the Tetrapharmakos stuck out in my brain, “What’s good is easy to get”, and all else just clutters our minds and lives and subconsciously adds stress.

If I lived in such a space, I would spend less time lounging around and more time going out into the world. Going on more walks because I wouldn’t have a patio to semi-fulfill my need for fresh air and nature. Meeting more people and doing more things because there’s nothing at home to idle away the day with.   I’d also be reading more, sleeping more, saving more by buying just enough instead of too much random crap.

Not long after Japan, we happened to take a separate trip to stay at Disney World in an upgraded “concierge” Disney Resort hotel, where upon we had a beautifully detailed room with french doors on the balcony and complimentary meals in the dining room. While the entire experience was lovely the enjoyment of it all seemed too forced, as if I were pressured to have a good time, and I came no where to the same feeling of blissful freedom of that tiny Japan hotel room.

Perhaps I never felt as peacefully content anywhere because my surroundings have been setting a standard for me.   A simplistic living space is never just another construct of society demanding false perfection and attainment.

It was this experience that made me realize that although I thought I had simplified during the past few years of moving around it wasn’t nearly enough, and as I have begun to make progress of cleaning up my lifestyle I have felt a noticeable difference in the way I feel.

My dream is to have exactly what I love and need to live comfortably and happily, and nothing more. Not exactly going minimalist, but minimizing. Being aware of what I choose to keep around me in life and how it affects everything.

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Sankei-en Garden

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