Growing up, my siblings and I were taught that everything in our environment, including inanimate objects, had a living spirit that deserved respect. “Even a cup?” we asked. “Even a desk?” “Even a chewing gum wrapper?” “Even the house we live in?” The answer was always, “Yes.”

Under this strict code of life, my taking a clean sheet of paper, crumpling it up, and throwing it away was grounds for punishment. I would be denying the paper’s existence to perform a useful task, and divine retribution would result from the disrespect I had shown the paper. My family’s belief system was based upon an extreme form of Shintoism, which is the ancient Japanese tradition of animism.

Believing that all things around you—rocks, river, mountain, and clouds—are somehow “alive” was something that I couldn’t grasp as a child. However as an adult, I prefer the world with its mysteries intact and I find myself comfortable with the thought. In many animated works from Japan, like the work of acclaimed animator Hayao Miyazaki, the belief in the spirit living within all objects is, pun intended, alive and well.

Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda