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Finding Myself in Japan - The Alternative Bridget Jones

by Amanda Jayne(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 107 - January 2005

After travelling around the world I always imagined I would feel so much better, that the ghosts of past traumas would have faded and become insignificant in the light of triumph over adversity (if you can call hiding behind my friend on a bamboo raft to escape a frenzied snake attack, and forgetting to think about her safety, triumph).

heading for Japan

So, why didn't I feel better? Actually, that's a lie, I did feel much better. I just didn't feel… I don't know, I didn't feel better better, how I imagined I would feel after proving to myself that I could do things I was scared of and survive in what I thought were extreme situations (somewhere with no Starbucks). So, on returning to England I carefully abandoned my plans to become a psychologist and promptly headed for Japan.

My pre-departure list of plans for Japan (yes I am fond of lists) read something like this:

1. Earn money
2. Stop eating chocolate
3. Feel better better

Yes, all very Bridget Jones, I know, but that was it.

something got lost in the translation

Stereotypes are funny things, and of course tend to prop themselves up sufficiently well to maintain negative images about cultures whilst only skimming the surface. The movie Lost in Translation is a fine example of this. I can vouch for the fact that Japan is not all hotel bars, gift giving and karaoke. (Not to say that karaoke is not a smashing pastime! I have even been known to frequent karaoke bars alone to extend my share of wailing time on the mike – although it's best not to tell anyone this).

When I saw this movie, I couldn't help feeling that it was akin to making a movie about England in which a Japanese man goes to the Ritz and emerges from the bar only briefly to witness polite English gentlemen waving their umbrellas around and shouting "hello old chap, care for a cup of tea". Meanwhile, Pale English Roses pour their tea into bone china cups and take care to tap their silver spoons on the side three times. Hmmm, did I go on too long there? I guess that I was trying to explain just how unfair it seemed to see such a shallow image of a deep culture being presented. It may have presented a small part of the culture, but there is so much hidden beneath if you just take time out from the bar.

starting to feel better

Three years after arriving in Japan, I can honestly say that I do feel better.

Anyone who has been to Kyoto will, I'm sure, agree that the energy and feeling here is something very special. Maybe it's because of the mountains around the city, or the many and varied temples and shrines nestled in the mountains or among the maples and cherry blossoms (how poetic). It could be the history, still alive in the wooden houses and narrow lanes. It may even be about the incredible way new and old seem to merge as the occasional sight of kimono-clad ladies wandering around the high street shops illustrates. The longer I stay here, the more I can see the reasons behind the customs that seemed so alien at first, and the more I encounter habits that are not acceptable in England and vice versa, the easier it is to see that there is no such thing as right and wrong, there just is whatever there is. This is not to say that Japan is the only place to release the ghosts of the past, but for me it was the place that gave me the space to discover how to find the power and energy inside me.

oh, so we're made of energy not guinness?

The first time I really felt energy or chi was when I went to a Tai-Chi class at the local gym. I only joined the class to get out of going on the gym machines that my over-enthusiastic friend was pounding away on. I was still giggling to myself about the conversation I had just had with two old ladies (which consisted entirely of proper nouns but had nevertheless been a pleasurable experience), when the teacher came around and put her hands above my outstretched hands moving them slowly around so that I could feel the energy between them. From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to learn, and over the past 21/2 years I have practised almost every day, sometimes under the not so relaxing circumstances that the cockroach-friendly house I live in provides. Despite this, the difference in my body and my general feeling of relaxation is amazing, not to mention that I am no longer afraid of cockroaches! Once I felt the energy inside and around my body it became obvious to me that we are pure energy beings and that there had to be more to life than Starbucks, beer and frequent trips to the doctor to placate my post-typhoid stomach.

the bit where the West meets Chiyoko Yamaguchi and I discover how to answer my own questions

So it was that through a series of circumstances I found an old woman and her son living in Kyoto. Not such a strange thing to find I agree. However, Chiyoko Yamaguchi was an incredible woman who made me want to hug her immediately on our first meeting (I decided it wasn't polite to launch myself at her though). She had learned Reiki in the 1930s from a man called Chujiro Hayashi, a Japanese doctor who had himself been taught by Usui Sensei, the founder. For anyone unfamiliar with Reiki, it is a Japanese energy healing method that is now popular in the West. However, in Japan it is only now becoming more popular and is often greeted with caution, partly because the kanji (Japanese letters) used for 'rei' can be read in different ways and can sometimes be read as 'spirit of the dead'. If someone asked me if I wanted some 'spirit of the dead energy' I may not be too enthusiastic either.

I learned Jikiden Reiki from Chiyoko Yamaguchi and her son, Tadao Yamaguchi, and have been studying and practising with him for the past two years. As time has passed, my way of thinking has changed and I have come to realize that things really are quite simple when it comes down to it. Chiyoko Yamaguchi always said that Westerners, 'think too much'. At first I thought this was simply a cultural idea that I didn't really agree with. However, through learning about and practising the Reiki she and her son taught me, and through reading various books and trying different ways of 'being' for myself, I have come to discover that I agree with her. We really do think too much, and to our detriment. The constant questioning and debating over what and who is right and wrong and the agonizing over what we should do or should have done about things is not helpful to us or our psychological and physical health at all.

I am not advocating the abolition of questions per se, but maybe looking to ourselves and our instinctual feelings about what is right for us would help us see things in more simple terms. If I can give an example using Reiki, some Western Reiki now usually uses about ten different symbols and some types involve various rituals of cleansing the room or making symbols before starting a treatment. The original style that Chiyoko Yamaguchi was taught was very simple. There were only three symbols, used sparingly, and no rituals. You simply put your hands on someone and their body begins to draw out the energy it needs to help the natural healing process.

Westerners sometimes came to visit and talk to Chiyoko Yamaguchi when she was alive and she was very struck by many people's apparent need to complicate things. My gradual passive understanding of this was made more personal when I tried to help translate the wording of a kotodama (a group of words to be said with meaning) for the psychological healing. Two of us agonized over the wording we should use as the exact translation sounded harsh and we were worried about whether people in the West would accept it or not.

I knew it worked because I had done it on myself many times, but there were still questions. Ikuko, my Japanese friend explained that the wording was also very harsh in Japanese. However, in the many seminars I had been to I had never once heard anyone question it. Why not? Then I realized that if you try something and it works, why change it? Why question it? (These are rhetorical questions by the way). Questions are good and our cultural background teaches us to question everything. I think we should. But for me, the key lies in knowing when your question has already been answered. If you try something and it works and it feels good, there's your answer.

the sound of feeling better

So, where better to begin a journey to feeling better than nestled in the mountains of Kyoto doing Tai-Chi under a tree (or in my room with the cockroaches, but let's not remember that) and learning how to help people heal themselves. Maybe the language gap here has given me the freedom to explore the quality in the simplest exchanges with others. I have learned through necessity to communicate with others consciously through connections that involve little spoken language and a great deal of compassion and understanding, and there is an amazing feeling in achieving that connection.

I feel that I am on the path to being somewhere and someone I want to be now. My post-typhoid stomach no longer sends me on problematic trips to the doctors and I am starting to realize that my future will be whatever I create. I am discovering that healing comes from within. Going to alternative therapists or conventional doctors helps and is of course exceptionally good in many cases. However, in doing so, remember you are giving your power to another person. I think the most important thing I have realized since I came here is that we all have the power to help ourselves. That may include going to doctors or healers but actively accepting responsibility for our lives and making changes in the way we think or live. Who we choose to be is the key to long-term healing and, for me, to feeling better better.

If anyone needs me, I am currently to be found bouncing around the hills of Kyoto singing The Sound of Music – well, not all the time.

Anyone interested in learning Jikiden Reiki can contact:
jikidenreiki@hotmail.com or go to the website at www.jikidenreiki.co.uk

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About Amanda Jayne

Amanda Jayne is a 33 year-old former chocoholic who enjoys travelling and experiencing new places and frequently annoys people by singing very loudly. She is currently teaching English in Japan and studying Jikiden Reiki and Tai-Chi with a view to helping people overcome psychological difficulties using alternative therapies in the future. She can be contacted on mirandapudding@hotmail.com

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