The author of a blog that I unfortunately can’t seem to locate once quipped that living in Japan is like taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. I had to laugh because I once had a Skype conversation with the Mother Superior of a convent that went something like this:
Mother: “Wow, so I’m seeing Japan! Show me around your apartment!”
Me: “Actually, you can see the whole thing right now.”
Mother: “Really? Where’s your bed?”
Me: “It’s a futon, and I’m sitting on it right now. There’s no room for any other furniture, really.”
Mother: “What are you, training to be a nun or something?”
So yes, I live in a 100-square-foot apartment, and I don’t own a table. But that’s not considered asceticism in Japan–just par for the course. My coworkers actually think I’m a total pansy for not bicycling to work. I mean, it’s only 7km.
Many people are surprised to find out how “low-tech” everyday life in Japan actually is. The Japanese generally use heating and air conditioning very sparingly, which is all the more punishing since insulation never caught on here. But I find there’s a certain willingness to suffer.
(Not on my part, I mean. I crank the heat all the way up in the winter and I don’t care if it makes my gas bill $200.)
So I had to smile when I read paragraph 55 of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato Si:
People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning.
If I’d never lived in Japan, I probably would’ve scratched my head at the use of air conditioning as an example. I mean, that’s just a necessity of life, right? Surely no one would sit in a sweltering room next to a button that could relieve their suffering and just not press it, right?
Well, maybe they would.