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Travelling Solo To Japan Changed My Toxic Mindset

travel solo
The stoned footpath in Okocho Sanso garden that leads to a rustic tea house

I had dozens of newsletters in my mailbox, and most of them, I guaranteed to come from various online shops. I kept buying new clothes. The ones I never knew I needed only because of the impulse on new trends and FOMO on big sales and discounts. My computer should have been the top-notch performances both from the look and power. I should have got the latest gadgets. I just loved buying things and never had enough of them. I was among the 88 per cent of Australians who held on old, unused items. I have lived in this toxic mindset for years.

I couldn't accept the facts that there are two main reasons why I held on unused items: for any sentimental reasons and thinking the item will be useful in the future. I knew neither both of them working in the way I intended. Cluttering, in contrary, weighed me down because they were reminders of my former self, and then I travelled Solo to Japan for three weeks. I was walking through zen gardens in Kyoto I had no interest whatsoever, absorbing the surroundings, and finding a quote on the wall by a temple founder at the temple garden.

Six months ago, I lived in my cluttered, 83-metre square one-bedroom apartment. Though it is quite a decent size by Australian standard, it seemed I never had enough space. I stored any items anywhere and wherever there was a space for storage. I piled pillows, blankets, and many other things I didn't know I had in the closet. I kept buying spices, bottles of sauces--I used them only a few times--and they filled up the kitchen cabinets from bottom to top. I hung clothes in the closet. I saved more clothes on the shelves, and the rest of them were piling up on the floor. To cut it short, I stored anything wherever there was a room. Until one day after my holiday in Japan, I began decluttering my stuff.

I didn't travel to Japan to find out what the fuss with minimalism or seek enlightenment from Zen Buddhist monks. I went on a holiday, visiting places I've never been to before. After watching youtube travel channels, reading travel blogs, and travel guide books, I decided to visit the sun rising nation out of curiosities. The day I went to Arashiyama bamboo grove in Kyoto, it was the day I was shocked to see the ugly face of mass tourism taking over Japan; rude tourists with selfie sticks, rickshaws shooed away dozens of tourists, endless lines of souvenir and savoury snack shops packed with tourists as they pushed me away for the roast dumplings. I wanted to find a place to get away from the tourist circus. I saw them all, and I had enough.

At the end of the footpath at Arashiyama bamboo grove, here I was, looking up the steep pathway to Okochi Sanso garden away from the tourist crowds. Situated on the sliding land of Arashiyama hills, Okochi Denjiro, a famous silent film actor (1898-1962), built a villa garden. The 20,000 square metres garden, has an elevated, rustic tea-house villa overlooking colourful tree carpet of hilly Arashiyama. It is one of a kind in Kyoto.

I followed the signs, walking through the stoned footpath among the carpet of delicate mosses, aged rocks, trees with different colours of leaves. The Japanese garden isn't meant to be a show stopper garden showing off its beauty and perfection, but rather it sees beauty from the imperfection of nature. The flaw of life, such as cracks on rocks, mosses crawling on trees and soils, ornamental statues half-buried on the ground, implies the negative space. It's why the garden stands out without being overwhelmingly beautiful. Here in Okochi Sanso garden, I found out the concept is known as 'Ma' (pronounced as Maah) in Japanese minimalism.

Though the West embraces minimalism as the concept of space and forms, the Japanese minimalism sees beyond. It derives from the use of 'void', 'negative space', 'emptiness' to make things stand out. Ma can be a pause when reading out a story, taking quiet time for a brief break in between busy works, and many other things we find in our daily life. Okochi Denjiro is aware 'the absence' or negative space 'Ma' should be the reasons for those who want to pay a visit to the garden, for those who want to get away from troubled mind, a busy life, and in my case, to get away from the tourist crowds. Ma is what creates the peace of mind (called heijoshin in Japanese) we all need so that there is room for our thoughts to exist and flourish.

And it was in Nanzen-Ji temple garden--about 14 km from Okochi Sanso garden--I stumbled upon a sign on the wall, a quote from the honourable Daimin, the founder of the temple: Do not let past troubles catch in your mind, nor future fears. Live in this moment, this place in pure mind without regret, and each day will be a good life.

I was sitting on the wooden step overlooking the gravelled yard. I realised if I had 'Ma' and implemented it in every aspect of my life, I would live in the present without regret and fear of the past, present, nor future. It is the ultimate way to achieve a good quality of life.

Minimalism makes me appreciate life not based on worldly attachments I used to possess, but instead, I shift my focus on buying experiences. Since I decluttered and gave away the unused items, my FOMO on discounted clothes, shoes, and newest gadgets slowly subsides. Now all I want is to save money and travel the world.

Walking through the gardens of Kyoto was such an eye-opening experience, and from that point onward, it led me to find my way to the minimalism movement, many YouTubers claim it is now overtaking the world. I began to understand how people find peace and live efficiently through minimalism.

Cluttering doesn't show that you have too many things. It instead shows you as someone who never has enough. Decluttering is merely liberating, and my journey to minimalism is only about to begin.

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