Since many years I have been coming to Kochi, on the island of Shikoku in Japan with my wife and daughter. It has become a winter holiday ritual for us. The Miyamoto family waiting at the airport. The short drive home to the house in suburbs of the city were the food is warm and plenty. After a few drinks we laugh loud and share stories of another year that has passed.
In a fast moving world I always feel Kochi brings me rest. Time slows down here, gets stretched between the end of the old and the beginning of the new year. We went from the ox to the tiger here, from the dragon to the snake, from the dog to the pig and every other animal in the Chinese zodiac.
During the day I can clear my head. I read one of the many books I’ve packed for the occasion or run through the field behind the house. I take in the landscape: the mix of concrete and small patches of farmland, the silent mountains in the distance. I cross the canal where the water is always low in this season. The air is crisp and cold.
During the night the house fills up. Family and friends gather around the kitchen table. A small stove heats the room and I listen to the stories of my father in law while ba-chan fills our bowls with baked rice.
This year was different. We almost missed the appointment to be here. The pandemic disrupted everything. Only after a series of stringent tests, a mountain of paperwork and a quarantine in Osaka were we able to join the family. What we took for granted for so many years became suddenly something nearly impossible. The distance between Switzerland and Japan appeared to be much more than just a vast stretch of land and ocean. It felt more like a portal to another dimension had closed. Without notice we found ourselves locked out, at the mercy of an incalculable deadly virus.
The pandemic has made clear that we shouldn’t assume what we have. Everything can change overnight. And nobody has a map for the future. That doesn’t mean we should be afraid or despair. But rather be mindful of what really matters. The connection to people we love rather than the things we have, a sense of what we want to achieve rather than a fixed path for our life and empathy for others rather than an obsessions with ourselves.
I wish everyone a place like Kochi. A place that keeps you centered and thankful.
Happy New Year.