Natsukashii – Gain value from your moments of nostalgia

Be grateful for all of the experiences you’ve had, because they make you who you are.

Question: Can you get value from nostalgia?

Me, age 6, with Sapporo souvenir hat
that I still have today!

What feelings come to mind when you think of nostalgia?  

For me, it’s typically a mix of both happiness and sadness.  I’ll often remember something nostalgic that makes me smile, laugh, or reminisce with someone, but then as the moment fades I’m sometimes left feeling a bit sad until the thought eventually passes from my mind. 

Aside from the emotions above, would I typically associate “value” with nostalgia? I didn’t…until today.

The thing that changed my mind was this article called “A uniquely Japanese take on nostalgia” by Erika Hobart on BBC.com, and it immediately resonated with me for a variety of reasons.  

The article is about natsukashii, which generally speaking is “a Japanese word used when something evokes a fond memory from your past”.  Erika mentions that it comes from a verb meaning “to keep close and become fond of”.  

The thing that specifically caught my attention throughout the article is how the Japanese emotionally frame nostalgia so that it ends up being a more positive experience rather than a sad one, and they regularly seek out natsukashii experiences to enrich their lives. Why? Because doing so adds great emotional value for them and their society as a whole.

Learning about different cultures

I’ve always had an interest in learning about different countries, traditions and cultures, but it’s only been in recent years that I’ve been actively spending significant time researching them.  It’s been an interesting and enriching experience far beyond the effort that it requires.   

Japan is a land and people filled with history and tradition, and it has kept both firmly in sight over the centuries.  It’s one thing for a country and its people to have historic checkpoints over time that they make reference to one way or another, but it’s a significantly different scenario to have the past and traditions remain ingrained in daily life over time and across generations.  

Between the two scenarios above, the latter offers more value because it helps people build a sense of shared identity about who they are, where they’ve come from, and where they’re collectively going.  If you study countries with a strong sense of identity and community like Japan, inevitably a large part of their overall story is that sense of tradition surviving through generations and remaining in daily life.  Japan has achieved this in part through concepts like natsukashii, which permeates their society. 

The thing that concerns many people about the U.S. is that its sense of identity and history is sometimes getting lost, most notably over the past fifteen years or so.  It seems that values and traditions are eroding, as opposed to becoming further ingrained in daily life. That’s not a good direction for long term well being, so it’s in the interest of U.S. citizens to understand that and change it.  

In a way, perhaps that’s part of what subconsciously drives me to learn more about other cultures.  It’s not only to satisfy my curiosity and interest about the world’s people and places, but also to consider where they’ve come from, what they value, and where that’s taking them so that I can better reflect on myself and my own country. Pursuing this type of knowledge and awareness is a strong path for personal growth, and I place great value in that.

The Japanese connection to Dad…a natsukashii moment   

My Dad, who passed away in August 2019, was a video tape editor for the U.S. NBC television network for most of his career.  During his time there, he worked on many great TV shows and sporting events, and he was once fortunate enough to travel to Japan to work on the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo.

Dad came home from that trip with many stories about Japan and its people, culture, and traditions.  While he was there he took advantage of Japan’s great reputation for photography equipment to buy a new Konica 35mm SLR and 8mm movie camera, so his stories had the added benefit of many photos and movies to go with them. We had many family movie nights where he would project his slides or 8mm movies on the screen in our darkened living room while he happily narrated about the entire trip. I remember it all vividly. I can even still remember the unique scent from the projector and its hot light bulb that eventually filled the room while we were watching. There was something comforting about it…  

Even though I was only six years old at the time he went, I remember that Japan made enough of an impression on Dad for me to notice it when he got home.  To this day when someone mentions Japan and Olympics together, I think back to Dad’s trip there, as well as the topics of tradition and history.  If you asked Dad what his favorite experience was while working at NBC, he would quickly answer “Visiting Japan for the Olympics”.

Perhaps the essence of natsukashii is what Dad experienced when he was in Japan.  He was 47 years old at the time and had a busy career, was raising four kids, traveled for work, and commuted into New York City every day.  Maybe experiencing the way natsukashii runs through Japanese tradition and society gave him pause to reflect, and maybe that’s what made the overall strong impression on him.  Although I can no longer ask him that question, it’s interesting to consider…     

Dad (left) with an NBC colleague at the Sapporo Ice Festival

So the BBC article above made me think about nostalgia, Japan, Dad, and value…and it gave me a natsukashii moment of my own.  After reading the article and doing further research about natsukashii, I better understand the real-life value that nostalgia can offer through gratitude for past experiences both joyous and sad, and I will carry that new mindset forward with me from now on. 

In other words, I didn’t just remember Dad’s trip to Sapporo. In the context of Erika’s article, I felt the emotion of it too.  The emotion of being sad when he left, happy when he returned, the excitement of waiting for his long distance calls to update the family, looking at the souvenirs he brought home, etc.  There is value to be taken from all of that because it’s the deeper aspect of it. Although we were thousands of miles apart while he was there, it was still an experience that we shared together. We each had our own very different perspective about it, and I felt all of that after reading and considering Erika’s article.  

How to make the natsukashii concept yours

So what does this mean to you? How can you make the natsukashii concepts from Erika’s article and my comments here your own?

Ultimately, it seems to me that the value of natsukashii is about “feeling, sharing and valuing”, instead of simply “remembering”. I’ll be writing a lot on this blog about personal mindfulness, but in a nutshell that’s what you have to do. Be more mindful and intentional, and think more deeply about what you’re remembering.

When you want to try digging further into the feelings of a nostalgic moment, try considering the following:

  • How does it make me feel? Which emotions?
  • Is what I’m remembering happy, sad, both, neither?
  • Who were the people I shared it with?
  • What do the people mean to me? Why do I value them?
  • How did that time/experience/event affect me? Why?
  • Be grateful for all of the experiences you’ve had, because they make you who you are.

There’s an endless list of questions that I could list here as prompts, and you can come up with your own too. The goal of all of them is to make you…feel. When you feel is when you move from simply remembering something to a more intentional, mindful and emotional appreciation of that moment. It’s at that point when you’ll find added value to your nostalgic moments, and indeed your life. That’s natsukashii.

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