The famous architect Tadao Ando, known for works such as the Church of the Light, has a unique background of becoming an architect by working part-time at an architect studio and learning by himself. He didn’t undertake any specialized education in architecture.
He started his career as a professional boxer. However, he reminisces that after meeting Fighting Harada (a famous former pro-boxer in Japan) and observing how he trained himself, he felt overwhelmed and immediately decided to quit his boxing career (Tadao Ando, “Architect Tadao Ando”, p.39).
H(e then fell in love with the art of creation and moved on to become an architect. When he was 24, the government liberalized overseas travel for personal purposes. He promptly arranged a trip to Europe. There was no travel guidebook and nobody around him had ever traveled abroad, of course. He decided to go to Europe when a US dollar equaled 360 Japanese Yen.
I was anxious, but more excited than worried about traveling Western Europe.
For our generation, the history of architecture meant the history of Western architecture, that is, from ancient Greek and Roman to modern Western architecture.
As far as seeing from pictures, I could feel something powerful in the Western architecture that was lacking in Japanese buildings which are more detail-oriented and aimed at achieving harmonization with the surrounding environment.
I wanted to go there and see it with my own eyes to find what the powerfulness was about.Ibid. p.52
His seven-month trip consisted of: departing from Yokohama Bay, entering Moscow and traveling across Europe to enter Spain, then from Marseille to Cape Town, and finally India and the Philippines before returning home.
Ando not only experienced various things in many places, but also saw many works done by Le Corbusier who he admires and is greatly influenced by. His desire to meet Le Corbusier in person didn’t come true as he had passed away several weeks before Ando arrived in Paris. However, this event also became part of the whole experience that influenced Ando’s entire life:
Knowing things by abstract words and knowing things by real experiences, though both called knowledge, are completely different in terms of depth.
In this journey, I saw the sea and land horizons for the first time in my life.
The never-ending plain view I saw from the window during my 150 hours Trans-Siberian train ride from Khabarovsk to Moscow.
The never-ending 360-degree ocean view I experienced on the boat in the Indian Ocean.
Traveling with those jet aircrafts these days won’t give us the chance to feel the earth at that magnificent scale and have that emotional experience.
In India, my final stop, I saw the dead and alive all mixed under the extreme sun and grotesque smell. I was so shocked – it completely changed my perspective about life.
A cremated body being flushed next to someone bathing in the Ganges. When I saw that, I couldn’t help but feel how trivial my existence was.
What does it really mean to be alive?
When I told my grandmother about my decision to go to Europe, she firmly supported me and cheerfully sent me off saying, “Money is not for saving. You maximize its value by using it to experience something real yourself.”
For the next four years until I opened my own studio, I traveled abroad whenever I saved up enough money to do so.
Just as my grandmother said, my memories of traveling in my 20s became irreplaceable treasures in my life.Ibid. pp. 56-57
Kojin Shimomura said:
“Everything in human life becomes more sophisticated through real experience.”Kojin Shimomura, “Seinen no Shisaku no tame ni” (For the young to engage in thinking), p.147
To actively experience something, in other words, whether to visit and feel things onsite or not, is your decision. Taking the first step requires bravery. But if you are brave enough to do so, the experience will enhance your senses and make your life more vibrant.
We often hear the words “be independent” these days, and some people may feel uncomfortable about it. It may be because the process of thinking through and making your own decisions consumes energy. You may need to exert courage to involve others. However, we sometimes just don’t know what’s going to happen unless we try it.
Let’s be brave in our first step and take the initiative. No matter what situation you are in, let’s try to be proactive!