The Art of Accommodating Without Looking – A Story


Inspired by a one of our very own CBC members, Moncho who decided to step out of his comfort zone with this one “The Rock Guide” and I might add hit it out of the ballpark. So I thought I would step out just a bit as well and see how it feels.

The story

As is my usual weekday routine, I’m standing on the train while people get on and off at their stops. Without a glance in any direction, I step in and out of the way making room for my fellow commuters. This can be during any hour of the day, but it is during rush hour and packed (like sardines) where I most resemble the greatest boxing champion ever lived, Muhammad Ali, bobbing and weaving letting people pass as they enter and exit the train. The only difference – no knockout punches.

On most occasions I am listening to music, which gives me an excuse to dance to the beat while stepping in and out of the way. I have become so attuned it’s as if I am on a whole other level feeling the moment and adjusting. What I am describing is an experience exclusive to Japan.

I have learned a lot over the many years of living in Japan. Some air on the side of esoteric – this is one such case, literally called ”reading the air,” or in Japanese ”kuki yomeru.” In simple terms it is the ability to read the feeling in the room, train or even outside.

I was trained to do this at an early age and had no idea it would be so useful in Japan. We did not call it reading the air in my childhood days in Minnesota. We called it the “Silent Swedes.” Our family never talked about what was really going on even though there was an emotional truth lingering in the air waiting to be expressed.

Fast forward many decades later, I arrived in Japan with this ability. It wasn’t until after many years in Japan that I realized I had it. Over time, I went on to graduate from air reading to a masters level – accommodating without looking. Accommodating without looking is the ability to read the air and adjust your body position by literally not looking. Think Shiva, but instead of multiple hands, it’s multiple eyes allowing me to know what is coming without ever having to look.

It’s feeling the presence of whatever it is that is closing in on me. It could be a car coming from behind while riding a bike, a bike or car coming from behind while walking, or as I said standing on the train making room for people to pass by. The point is that I am not hearing it, but feeling it and then moving out of the way.

This did not come to me in a flash, rather it crept up on me and suddenly I found myself with this odd ability. I thought, ”What is this gift I have received? What do I do with such power?

The reality – like any superhero, use it for good. Rather than exploit this power in such a way for selfish gains, I found a useful way to make it part of my life by accommodating others.

Now just imagine the whole country with this ability. To most it is second nature and are unaware they are even doing it. That was perplexing upon first observation. Out for a bike ride, I would come up on a group of people walking that were seemingly blocking my path. Without so much as a sound from me, they would miraculously part like the Red Sea and move out of my way.

This was not limited to just adults, kids did it as well.

Like some Buddhist Koan, I agonized over the question, “What is this power that allows them to see without seeing?

I was hesitant to ask my wife for fear of thinking that I was crazy.

I gave in and asked her one day over lunch at a nearby by family restaurant. Trying to explain to her what it was that I have observed, “Walking down the street people move out of my way without even looking.” “What is going on?“ With a dumbfounded look she replied, “What are you talking about?” I tried to elaborate and articulate the experience. She finally got it and with exuberance replied, “Oh that! That’s not looking by reading the air.

Time passed and I continued to perfect this newfound power to a point where it became second nature. I even ended up coining the phrase, “The Art of Accommodating Without Looking.

Instead of standing my ground (like an American) and letting others move out of the way I vowed to use this as a form of generosity and I move. And continue to do so to this day.

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