Mind Over Matter
Mind Over Matter
After arriving in Japan decades ago on January 11, 1987, one had the opportunity to visit an elementary school as a guest—in the middle of frigid January.
Much to one’s surprise, the heating system consisted of a worn out kerosene heater, which had seen better days struggling in the back of the classroom.
In icy January and February, it was as cold inside the building as it was outside.
Unfazed by the icy cold, the pupils carried on about their day in a most routine manner—some of the boys in short pants.
This is also where one first got the history lecture of the events leading up to the period of isolationism starting with the ouster of the Jesuits and Christianity from the early 16oos.
Unfortunately, the history lecture was carried out by the excited Japanese teacher at the back of the freezing classroom to a white-face who just fell off the plane and could not speak Japanese at all.
It was not only until several years later where this impromptu Japanese history lesson concerning the Japanese Christian being persecuted became clear as one could recall him going though the motion of stomping on pictures of Christ to prove their loyalty to the daimyo while explaining the history of Japan.
Nevertheless, this classroom experience was a dramatic introduction to the ancient Shinto concept that enduring the cold of winter as one of the fastest and most efficient ways to develop extraordinary mental control and intellectual and spiritual awareness all of which were essential to mastering martial arts and other skills.
In early Japan it was the custom for samurai warriors, geisha, Japanese high school girls, and others to perform their exercises outside during the winter months and dressed only in the lightest clothing.
This formidable custom a custom is especially common during daikan, or “the great cold,” from January 20 to around February 20.
Following their exercises, students of martial arts would then drench themselves with icy water.
Shinto priests and religious devotees have traditionally stood under waterfalls in the dead of winter to purify their spirits and build their character.
Nothing quite builds character than standing underneath the glorious icy water of the winter waterfall to purify one’s heart, mind, and soul.
There was really no attempt to heat Japan’s school rooms until the 1960s, and students, from kindergarten onward, were expected to endure the cold temperatures of the bitter winter seasons as part of their education and physical training.
There was famous international intrigue in the 1980s where an elementary school in central Japan received attention due to its requirement for its students, girls as well as boys, to attend classes wearing only shorts and light tops throughout the winter.
The children were shown on national television at study and play, looked happy and robust, faces bright and shining.
School doctors who were interviewed said the children gave no indication that they were suffering; nor were colds or other illnesses any more common among the children than among those who dressed warmly.
Japan’s traditional attitude toward cold goes a long way toward explaining the characteristic dedication and diligence of the Japanese in all of the enterprises they undertake.
Many Japanese customs are a part of the old belief that the mind can prevail over matter if it is sufficiently trained, and this kind of training played a key role in the extraordinary skill developed by the Japanese in all of their arts and crafts, and indeed business skills.
The concept fortifying oneself washed in the icy cold of the Japanese winter (daikan) is much alive in Japan, and it still influences the attitudes and behaviour of most Japanese even until this very day.