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Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2006

WORDS TO LIVE BY

Tomoko Noguchi


Tomoko Noguchi, 53, is secretary general of Slow Life Japan ( www.slowlife-japan.jp), a nonprofit organization that promotes an alternative way of living, in which people "change negative thinking into positive thinking, and enjoy not just the outcome but also the process." Noguchi, a women's liberation activist in her late teens to early 20s, moved to Shizuoka Prefecture after she burned out while working as a a copywriter in Tokyo. There, she says, she discovered the greatness of people and their lives, and started to advise various sho-tengai (local shopping streets) on how to revitalize their communities.

Tomoko Noguchi
Tomoko Noguchi TOMOKO OTAKE PHOTO

How many great things have survived to this day because they failed to catch up with the times? Country people think their assets are old, tacky and behind the times, but from an outsider's perspective, that's what makes them so unique and great.

Create job titles that fit what you want to do. When I was a reporter at a local TV station in Shizuoka, I called myself a "leisure-information coordinator." Today, apart from my job at Slow Life Japan, I'm also director of Yutori Kenkyu-jo (a research institute for pressure-free life). I've made money by creating titles for myself.

Having a husband who doesn't make a penny is a great incentive to work. It forces you to calculate how much your work is worth.

Someone who makes you laugh is an asset. You need the help of someone who has a sense humor when you don't have the energy to laugh yourself.

A bunk bed works really well. Our apartment in Tokyo is too small to fit two beds. I sleep on the top bunk and my husband sleeps on the bottom one. I feel comfortable, having enough space to stretch my legs and be surrounded by my favorite books.

In life-or-death situations, what the government thinks about a man and a woman's relationship is unimportant. We are "married" in the jijitsu kon (common law) style, not because we wanted to defy existing laws but because we never cared much about what kind form of matrimony we should have. When my husband's mother got cancer after we started living together, she didn't care whether her son was married to a woman on paper or not.

When you don't have many things, you start to appreciate what you do have. If you go to an isolated village, there are many things you can't buy. A local grocery store might carry regular vegetable oil but not olive oil. Maybe it sells AA-size batteries but not AAA-size batteries. Once you give up on things you don't have, you start seeing other things -- like those fresh vegetables that line the shelves next to the batteries, and the warmth of people.

Slow life is not about just living slowly. It's about knowing when to bear down and when to ease up. Slow life is not about living in the countryside, either. You can live slowly and change the ways you look at things in the city, if you try.

I want to keep talking to people until the day I die. Ideally, I would be running a bar or something, giving advice on life to customers. And after I die, people would ideally gossip among themselves, "You know, that grandma seems to have passed away. I just went to her place and it was closed . . ."

Tokyo has a lot of energy, but many people look unhappy. Their faces seem distorted. I guess it's inevitable, because people in Tokyo have to ride jam-packed trains.

Fill each day of your calendar with one thing that your hometown can boast on that day. It makes you realize how rich your hometown is all year round.

As a free-lancer, I know I'll have to work until the day I die. Once I realized that, I set my mind to it, thinking: "Why don't I make a lot of money?"

Making friends is a no-brainer for me. Why would anyone hate someone so attractive? I know that, if I time travel to the Mongolian steppe right now, I would immediately start making friends there.

Subtle changes add up to a huge difference. It took feminists 50 years to win women the right to choose between skirts and pants. That's a change that might look subtle on the surface but, in fact, is fundamental. Rather than making one big change, I'm trying to accumulate small changes, as if I'm picking shrimps or shiitake mushrooms to eat.

Action is more powerful than theory. Act on something concrete instead of raising your fist high. There is always something you can do today.

Tomoko Noguchi edits a blog about slow life at www.burat.jp


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