June, Japan and Drawing on Zest

No doubt about it, June was a month of zest for life: birds singing, flowers blooming, grass growing like weeds, weeds growing like weeds.

The month has come and gone, but I was out in the world traveling, drawing on my character strength of ZEST (and, I admit, spending a bit less time in the realms of prudence and self-regulation).

According to the VIA Institute on Character, a person with zest as their top strength is someone who approaches all experiences with excitement and energy. They never do anything halfway or halfheartedly. For them, life is an adventure.


Kyoto, Japan from Mt. Hiei

My husband and I were fortunate to have spent half of the month of June traveling in Japan. And while zest is one of my middle-level strengths, I certainly drew upon it strongly as we embarked on new adventures every day, from climbing Mt. Hiei near Kyoto to savoring the unique mountain culture and cuisine of the Japan Alps in Takayama. It wasn’t our first visit to Japan, but it was a trip where we actively cultivated our strength of zest, making a point of seeking out new experiences and diving into them with a sense of adventure.

We stayed at a wonderful minshuku (a small, traditional Japanese bed-and-breakfast) in Takayama. We both slept amazingly well on the thinnest of futons on the tatami-covered floor. We woke up early, grabbed quick showers and went to breakfast. We received a warm “ohayogozaimasu” (good morning) from the proprietor and were welcomed into the breakfast room — also tatami and no chairs in sight (they will give you a low chair if you ask for one, but this was a trip of ZEST). We proceeded to fold our long legs under a very low table and I was pleased I could actually do it — all the yoga has been paying off!

Early morning in Takayama, Japan. Traditional Japanese breakfast at the Oyado Yoshinoya.

The act of eating breakfast was also an adventure. The sweet couple who own the place served us a wonderful combination of traditional Japanese dishes that included green tea, miso soup, salad, seaweed, wild mountain vegetables, eggs, pickles, rice, hoba miso (thinly sliced Hida beef, mushrooms, vegetables and miso paste cooked on a magnolia leaf over a brasier) and, for starters, a beautiful little smoked fish.

I realized quickly (from watching the Japanese couple next to us) that these are the kind of fish one eats whole — as in the head and all. Now I’m rather uncomfortable eating anything the looks at me from the plate, but I put my aversions aside, drew on my zest and enjoyed a very exotic breakfast experience. All of it. It was delicious. And I felt so fortunate and grateful to be able to experience these very local, traditional foods.

Back home, our garden greeted us with an exemplary vision of the zest of June: tomato plants twice (maybe even three times) their size, new shoots of lettuce and carrots sprouting, a lawn that looked like a verdant hayfield and drifts of wild flowers (and more than a few weeds) that set our outdoor agenda for the coming month.

I hope you also enjoyed the zesty month of June and that you will let that excitement and energy continue as you experience the best of summer!


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