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Saturday, Nov. 3, 2001

JAPAN LITE

Japanese relieve stress in strange ways


Westerners typically take a vacation to relieve stress. We might go to the Caribbean, lie on the beach, read trashy novels and sip cocktails. Not so the Japanese.

The vacation

In Japan, relieving stress requires being so busy doing something else, you haven't time to think about your stress. Japanese might book a six-day package tour to Los Angeles, with two of those days taken up flying. The four remaining days would be spent on tours of Hollywood and Universal Studios, an afternoon at Disneyland and a one-day, one-night jaunt to Las Vegas by air. The last day would be spent shopping. Of course, they take their cell phones. No wonder the Japanese are always exhausted on returning from vacation.

The day trip

There is no reason to deprive yourself of attending an event if the only thing separating you and the event is a many-hour bus ride. I once took a six-hour bus ride to Shikoku to see the Awa Festival. As we got off the bus, the driver said, "Be sure to be back in three hours for the ride back!" If you prefer to enjoy more time at your destination, on a winter Sunday you can board a charter bus to go skiing at 3 a.m. and arrive at the slopes by 9 a.m., ski until 4 p.m. and take a six-hour ride home. I once took a trip with the women's club on my island who organized a bus trip to a winery. We were treated to a 20-minute tour of the winery and two hours of "free time" in the gift shop.

The national holiday

With 14 national holidays, you would think the Japanese were constantly taking a rest. Not so! On national holidays, people get a day off work to redirect their stress. Remember, to pull off a successful national holiday takes a lot of preparation. Today, Culture Day, has been in the making for weeks now, including scheduling, rescheduling, planning meetings and preplanning meetings. Now everyone finally gets a day off to put all their energy into pulling off the events and exhibitions they have spent the last few weeks of their lives meticulously planning.

Home stress relief

Perhaps the best way to relieve stress is to just stay at home. I recently learned of a way people on my island relieve stress. When I was telling my neighbor Kazuko how stressed I felt lately, she said, "I know just the thing you need." She ran next door and brought back a long, hand-made quilted carrying case with bunnies on it. She opened it and took out two red cardboard tubes with little pompons on the ends. Inside were 5 yen coins strung on a metal wire so they clattered and rattled when Kazuko held them out in front of her. She pulled out a second set and handed them to me.

Kazuko tossed the two tubes back and forth, switching the right tube to the left hand and the left to the right. I was to copy her moves, and soon we were both doing tossing exercises to the clattering rhythm. "All the older women on the island know how to do this. An instructor comes to teach us once a month," she said, adding a few more tricks each time.

"Slower!" I pleaded, trying hard to keep up.

"Some of the ladies enter competitions on the mainland," she said. Soon we were practically juggling the tubes while flipping them in different directions. If we had just lit the pompons on fire, we could be street performers.

"You see? It takes a lot of concentration. It gets your mind off other things."

She was right. After 30 minutes I was sufficiently exhausted but stress-free.



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