In the soft morning drizzle, a handful of people line up before an altar-like mound of stones where a small fire crackles and hisses. Each person in turn throws a handful of old brushes into the blaze. The local garbage incinerator? No — this is ritual cremation.

"It's in honor of the souls of the brushes for the work they've done," a man explains.

This simple act reminds us that, while the concepts of mindfulness and gratitude have recently become modern buzzwords in the West, in Japan — with its ceremonies to show appreciation for everything from used kitchen knives to full moons — such notions have been ingrained in the collective psyche for centuries.