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From a special issue (unavailable online) of National Geographic Traveler, a sidebar to an essay on Japanese ryokans:

One of my favorite things about a ryokan is the seating arrangement. When dinner is served, the honored guest is seated with his or her back to the tokonoma, a small alcove that typically holds a scroll, a vase, and an ikebana flower arrangement. I once read an explanation of why the guest sits facing away from the most beautiful part of the room: It's so that the guest actually becomes part of the room's beauty, a lingering presence that fills the ryokan for years afterward. Looking at the empty room, remembering the guest, a Japanese might exclaim "Natsukashii!" -- an expression that conveys a complicated and favorite Japanese emotion, the bittersweet nostalgia for something lovely and loved, now past. -- Cathy N. Davidson, author of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji


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