I type this as I sit in the living room of my parents' house in Europe on the last day of my vacation, and I know that once again I will have to say goodbye to my family before my wife and I undertake the long, arduous journey back to Japan. Our parents are getting old, and we realise that time is running out for us to enjoy the good things in life we do together right now. Saying goodbye is always difficult, because when we finally walk towards airport security the realisation of how much we miss them, and Europe in general, is most intense.
With every trip back to Europe, I am reminded of the many small things I love (and hate) about it that we miss in Japan. Europe possesses a certain cosiness, with its many cafes and terraces, a much more relaxed atmosphere - especially in the southern countries - and much more open space that is difficult to come by in Tokyo and Japan as a whole. That said, Japan has plenty of good to offer in return: the ubiquitous politeness, peace and quiet on crowded trains and in residential neighbourhoods, a genuine effort to minimise discomforting other people and awareness of the surroundings, and excellent service.
Europe's more relaxed attitude to life manifests itself the most in how its citizens approach vacation. By law Europeans enjoy some of the most paid holidays in the world, and every summer there is a massive migration from north to south as northerners, fed up with the fickle weather, briefly seek warmer climes before the autumn sets back in and the children return to school.
In Europe, both people and government recognise the benefits of regularly taking a vacation. These benefits have been documented many times over by medical and psychological research: vacation relieves stress, it has an overall positive benefit on one's health and mind, it fosters creativity and improves worker production (despite the temporary absence). Even though Europeans enjoy longer vacations versus some other developed nations, their overall productivity has been documented to be similar to, and often superior to, that of these other nations. At present I feel more relaxed, revitalised, and eager to commence working again. I have been able to crystallise some ideas that were simmering in the back of my brains, read books long overdue, swim in the ocean and pool, stroll along the beach, interact with family, enjoy food I cannot find in Japan, and I feel fantastic. I am ready to once again endure the fast-paced life back in Tokyo, including the dreaded rush hour.
As researchers, we are always thinking. We are always in our heads. We are always trying to solve the next problem, come up with new ideas and methods to continue to be productive. Some of us thrive doing this and can go on seemingly indefinitely; others cannot sustain this modus operandi and need to take repeated rests. And that's okay! We have one body, one mind, one soul, and we need to take care of it. I am glad, therefore, that ELSI and Tokyo Tech give us generous time for vacation, and I encourage people to use it and make the most of it.
Image credit: Lucy Kwok