(Reproduced from Kinfolk magazine, volume 8.)
“This is a phrase grandmas say a lot. Not just to encourage you to eat the remaining rice in your bowl (the tear drops of farmers), but to encourage you to be more outgoing and seize the day, because you have so much to offer the world and so much the world can also give you. This is a phrase to remind you not to waste things or opportunities.”
Also see wikipedia.
Yesterday while wandering around the Gion district here in Kyoto, we climbed some stairs to view a giant bell. As we began the climb of 100 or so steep stone steps, three elderly women stood at the bottom and contemplated the ascent. At varying paces they made the climb. We were almost ready to head back down by the time the last one reached the top, smiling and exhausted. Mottainai is about being a steward of life, grasping opportunities and not settling for mediocrity. It is not about going the path of least resistance, but about ‘ascending the stone steps’ of life.
Sometimes people who courageously make decisions to live life to the full are heralded as unusual. Mottainai feels like an alternative suggestion, that failing to live life wholly and fully is a waste.