At a busy crossing in front of Tokyo Station, Bruno Contigiani, president of L’Arte del Vivere con Lentezza (The Art of Slow Living), an organization he founded in his native Italy, approached office workers one after another urging “Yuru yuru, shiawase” (“Go slowly, be happy”).
It was around 8:30 a.m. on Monday, March 9 — the third annual Global Day of Slow Living.
Perhaps sensing that his quiet entreaties were failing to transform Tokyo’s tense workforce into a hang-loose mass of meandering humanity, Contigiani stepped up the slow-down pressure. This involved him donning a faux Italian policeman’s hat and handing out mock speeding tickets to pedestrians who walked “too fast.” But this hard cop had his soft side, too, as he showed when he smilingly gave out flyers on living the slow and happy way.
Despite all his efforts, though, almost everyone passed with barely a glance as they rushed dutifully to work.
As I certainly don’t need converting to the idea of easing back to improve my quality of life, I needed no persuasion to joined Contigiani, his wife, Ella, and three other members of the organization handing out speeding tickets and fliers to the antlike hordes hurrying by.
“Excuse me, sir. Do you know it’s the Global Day of Slow Living today?” I asked a passing businessman. “I’m sorry. I am in a hurry,” he replied before rushing away.
Between us, our slow and happy band of easygoing evangelists tried to speak to countless commuters before we finally fell into convo with Yuichi Maeda, a 36-year- old banker who said he envies Italians, as they can put slow living into practice.
“When I am working, time passes so fast. I wish I could have more time and enjoy leisure as the Italians do,” Maeda said, adding that he studied in Italy for a year. “People here, on their way to work, don’t understand the humor of the Italians. But I find it fun,” he said.
The flyer proclaimed 10 principles for happy slow living, which included: “Don’t run on train station platforms — the next train is coming soon”; and “Don’t add too many things to your schedule, even if they are fun. You will be happier if you have time between appointments.”
Finally, after accosting countless more commuters, another succumbed to our casual charms — and it was worth the wait when trading company staffer Rena Iwasaki, 33, said straight out: “I’m always busy and I often run to catch a train, but I think slow living is a good idea because Japanese people are always in a hurry.”
Contigiani, who founded the Art of Slow Living in autumn 2005, had been a busy businessman before as PR manager of the Italian branch of IBM. He also worked in a PR office of Telecom Italia, Italy’s main telephone company.
“I had a very stressed life then. I was always in a hurry even when I was on holiday,” 62-year-old Contigiani said.
Then, on the last day of his family’s summer holiday in 1999, Contigiani narrowly escaped serious injury when he impulsively jumped into the sea and almost hit an underwater rock, he said.
“At that time, my wife told me, ‘That was a warning that you must slow down a little bit,’ ” he said, explaining that the near-serious accident helped him to start taking slow-living activities seriously.
Once he had seen the slow-living light, Contigiani’s first major concrete step was to organize a Global Day of Slow Living in Milan on Feb. 19, 2007. That was also a Monday, as he believes that on Mondays people are in peak hurry mode after the weekend — and he believes that this is the most important time for people to be aware of the importance of slowing down.
So on that day, dressed like an Italian policemen, Contigiani and other members of the organization stood in Milan’s central Piazza del Duomo, with people passing them on all sides in a hurry to get to work.
“We gave them mock speeding tickets and asked them why they were in such a hurry,” he said. “They understood our jokes and loved them,” Contigiani said, adding that his group handed out 500 “speeding tickets” to pedestrians that day.
Then, on the second Global Day of Slow Living, Feb. 25, 2008, the organization’s members “ticketed” speeding pedestrians in Union Square, New York, where Contigiani said, “The New Yorkers received the tickets and they were happy to joke with us.”
Here, it wasn’t quite as upbeat for the group’s members promoting the Art of Slow Living outside Tokyo Station on the morning of March 9. But when they crossed the city center to Shinjuku and Shibuya between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Contigiani beamed as he reported they had drawn far better reactions from pedestrians.
“People walking in Shinjuku and Shibuya were curious about our campaign, and young people in Shibuya especially enjoyed talking with us about slow living,” he said, adding that his members issued some 130 “speeding tickets” and handed out untold fliers that day.
However, the number of tickets was less than the group issued in Milan two years before, which may have been because Japanese people are so keen to be punctual that they won’t stop for even a moment.
Certainly, punctuality is a valued virtue in Japan — but being “too punctual” robs people of personal leeway, said Claudio Baccarani, a professor of economics Verona University who said as much in a panel discussion on slow living at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura (Italian Cultural Institute) in Tokyo on March 6.
“Punctual people attending a meeting tend to start thinking about their next appointment 15 minutes before the end of the meeting,” Baccarani said. “So as a result those people lose their interest in others at the meeting.”
To avoid this — and so to accord others their due respect — individuals and organizations should create extra time between meetings, he explained.
All this may seem like common sense, but I asked Contigiani how people could put slow living into practice at a time when the world’s economic system is in meltdown.
“If you slow down a little bit, you can choose the correct way to find the solution to your problem. If you always run, you are more likely to get tired, and then maybe you will take the wrong path.” he explained, adding that the current global recession would end just as recessions before had ended.
“Even if people are forced to work hard and fast, they need to have hope for their future and spend time having good relationships with others. Steady relationships with family, friends and their community help people to get through difficult times.”