Influenced by manga, anime, martial arts, and Zen since young, Monitoring and Analytics manager Charlie Tjokrodinata’s dream came true when he got the opportunity to visit Japan. There he found his inner Zen in the most unlikely of places.

From childhood, Japan has been a spiritual and somewhat of a cultural home for me.

Japanese culture, for people of my generation, was to us what Korean culture is to Gen Z today. I grew up on manga comics and Japanese animated films, more popularly known as anime. My infatuation with manga, anime and Hong Kong action movies drove me to pick up martial arts.

Wanting to thread on the same path as Kenji, a character from a popular martial arts manga back then, I took up karate when I was 14 years old and have not stopped indulging in almost all sorts of martial arts styles and since.

What began as an aspiration to be able to do flashy high kicks and winning martial arts competitions, eventually led toward self-cultivation. Besides physical practices, I was also introduced to various concepts like shoshin, fudoshin, zanshin and mushin, which were adopted from Zen Buddhism.

Shoshin (beginner’s mind) was introduced when I first stepped into the dojo, the training hall. It emphasizes curiosity and humbleness, similar to a beginner that needs to open its mind and ready to receive the knowledge. Fudoshin (immovable mind/spirit) emphasizes perseverance and courage, while zanshin (constant awareness) emphasises us to be aware of our ourselves and our surroundings, to keep our mind from wandering. Lastly, mushin (mind of no mind) emphasizes cultivation or the need to train ourselves until we reach the level of mastery devoid of emotion (on anticipating your opponent’s movements) and thinking (how to execute a technique), which is perfectly captured by a quote from Miyamoto Musashi: “It takes a thousand days to forge the spirit, and ten thousand days to polish it”. Those concepts were basically a guide to cultivate your inner self and eventually, if you grasp and practice the whole concept, brings you Zen, the eventual inner peace and harmony.

So, with such a heavy influence weighing on me it was a dream come true when the opportunity arose for me to visit Japan and experience the country first hand. The opportunity arose in the form of a Personal Development Fund (PDF) from Maverick. The PDF is a self-development fund for Maverick full-time employees that have worked there for more than a year. Are entitled to about a month’s salary to visit places we have never been before, or to engage in informal activities, or professional training, that can help us improve ourselves further.

Three months ago, in the height of spring, I made my pilgrimage to Japan. Listening to advice from friends who are more familiar with Japan, I decided to focus on the Greater Kanto area for my first visit. The highlights of my visit were, naturally, related to anime-manga and martial arts. My checklist consisted of must-go places for anime manga fans like Pokemon Center MEGA Tokyo in Ikebukuro, gigantic Gundam statue in Odaibai, Ghibli World, Fujiko F.Fujio Museum, and Akihabara, famous for its geek-culture and electronics stores.

In spite of managing to visit almost all the places on my list, however, I didn’t get to visit Ghibli Studio. I only realized a few weeks before the trip that gaining entry to the very-popular Ghibli World requires reservations, normally a few months in advance. This is a lesson learned in preparedness or Zanshin.

I also visited the Meiji Shrine in Shibuya. For someone exposed to images and tales about Japan, the shrine was the place that embodies Japan I am familiar with. I could roughly link Zen concepts that I have learned in the design of the shrine complex and the rituals they perform.

Seemingly unlikely, the Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama was another place where I found the application of the Zen concept. The story of Momofuko Ando, the inventor of instant noodle and the founder of Nissin shows how Ando strived to realize his ideas through perseverance (fudoshin – immovable mind) and innovation (shoshin – beginner’s mind). Once he successfully found a reliable method to produce noodle that can be prepared within 5 minutes and last for months, he perfected the method and introduced ‘harmony’ through a production line that reduced inefficiencies and minimizes defects.

The ultimate highlight of my trip in one of the least likely places people can imagine —  the Toilet.  Japanese toilets are the perfect balance of Japanese work ethic and the search for harmony. Aside from the cleanliness, their toilets are very comfortable and high-tech. If you are worried about sounds you might produce, there is a feature that fakes the sound of flushing to cover your big businesses. You can even warm the toilet seat and sit comfortably like a queen or king. Never once I felt out of place in their toilets. I would say that the toilet even managed to provide me with moments of reflection, a moment when I can be with myself, devoid of any expectations, a moment of harmony, a Zen-like moment. A time well-spent in a toilet wouldn’t smell that bad after all, I guess.

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