Mindfulness has become trendy around the world in recent years – but in Japan, it’s been ingrained into the culture for centuries.
As the sleek shinkansen bullet train glided noiselessly into the station, I watched a strange ritual begin. During the brief stop, the conductor in the last carriage began talking to himself. He proceeded to perform a series of tasks, commenting aloud on each one and vigorously gesticulating at various bits of the train all the while.
So what was he up to? You could say he’s practicing mindfulness. The Japanese call it shisa kanko (literally ‘checking and calling’), an error-prevention drill that railway employees here have been using for more than 100 years. Conductors point at the things they need to check and then name them out loud as they do them, a dialogue with themselves to ensure nothing gets overlooked.
Mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness. This present-moment awareness has been deeply ingrained into the Japanese psyche for centuries. You don’t hear people talk about it, but it manifests itself in myriad ways.
I – Word Understanding
Gesticulating – moving arms and hands when speaking
Psyche – personality
Myriad – many
II – Have Your Say
1. Pointing and calling (shisa kanko) is a method in occupational safety for avoiding mistakes by pointing at important indicators and calling out the status. It is common in Japan. Aside from trains, where else is shisa kanko observed in Japan?
2. How do you practice shisa kanko (or simple mindfulness) in your daily life?
3. Tea ceremony, haiku and cherry-blossom viewing, all share a heightened appreciation of the moment. Can you explain these practices and what’s special with them?