I would like to start by saying, while I wish this were a story about a long running show where three blue men found the rhythm of life, it is not. This is about a group of old men in blue uniforms. Whether rain or shine, hot or cold, summer or winter it doesn’t matter, these are the happiest men I have ever encountered.
Cursing at cars and pedestrians while on my bike, I am in a bad mood as I encounter one of these old men in blue. Suddenly, the vibe emanating off one profoundly shifts my mood to happiness. Walking along the road stuck in my own thoughts, I am greeted with a toothless grin and joyous “konnichiwa,” good afternoon. In a nanosecond, I return a full toothed grin and joyous reply forgetting what I was thinking about. Who are these men dotting the paved landscape of Tokyo? And more importantly why are they so happy?
I wish I could tell you they are extraordinary men saving the world. They are not. They are extraordinarily ordinary doing something ordinary. And within the ordinary they found happiness. And their simply being happy is passed on to anyone within the radius of their presence. Sounds like an enlightened being to me. Perhaps they are, but we will never know. An enlightened being doesn’t run around telling the world they are enlightened. I will say there is something about these old guys that holds the key to happiness.
Throughout the year in Tokyo some form of construction is going on, whether road, bridge or sidewalk. My understanding is that construction even happens in places where it is not needed because they simply must spend the money budgeted for the year. March is a particularly busy construction season given the end of the fiscal year. For years, I used to swear and curse under my breath at these construction sites. With narrow roads snaking throughout Tokyo, I often had to wait and allow cars from the opposite direction to pass. Directing traffic at these construction sites are baton wielding, hardhat wearing men in matching blue shirt and pants.
It was a chance meeting and conversation with one on a remote mountainous road that woke me up to their joy. In the middle of nowhere, cycling solo on a cool summer day, I came across an orange construction sign. Sure enough, rounding the corner there was an old man in blue with baton in hand holding it perpendicular to his body signaling me to stop–A one-way road. I had to wait a few minutes for a number of cars to pass in the opposite direction. With a curse rising from my unconscious, it stopped short when the man in blue looked at me. With his dark sunburned face highlighting his pearly whites he smiled and asked in Japanese where I was from. I replied, the US, but living in Japan for many years. This impressed him, as well as my language ability. We went on to discuss a few more topics before it was my time to pass through. “Sayonara” we said to one another and off I went. I realized as I rode away my mood changed to happiness. It was after this encounter that I began to pay attention to these old men in blue wherever I went. I found the exact same thing happened, I was happier after being in their presence.
While I never had a chance to interview them as to why they are so joyous, I have a theory. They are retired from having dedicated their lives to the company working long hours for decades at the expense of family life. After retirement and having been ousted from the family, there was nothing left to do except spend their remaining days at pachinko parlors (gambling casinos) and izakyas (bars) fending off the guilt and shame. Or, become a baton wielding man in blue with a chance at redemption.
Redemption in this case comes in the form of acceptance of the life they had been given. With all the standing around there was time to reflect on their previous life and eventually accept it. Over time, this standing became a form of meditation. And as you may know meditation leads to epiphanies and enlightenment. By letting go of the past, not worrying about the future and living in the present happiness is found no matter what you are doing.