When I visited Japan recently, I witnessed the 66th cycle of a ritual that began more than 13 centuries ago. I watched as Crown Princess Masako led a procession of Shinto priests carrying treasures from the old temple to the new. In Ise, they have been rebuilding the grand Jingu shrine with wood and thatch every 20 years since at least the 7th Century. As part of Shinto ritual, this not only keeps the structures intact even when made out of relatively ephemeral materials, but it allows the master temple builder to train the next generation.
Japan is also home to most of the oldest companies in the world, and has a singular affection for maintenance that allows it to sustain structures and rituals for millennia. But many other cultures have created long lasting artefacts and buildings, and each one can teach us something.
Over the last two decades, I have been working at The Long Now Foundation to build a monument-scale “10,000 Year Clock” as an icon to long-term thinking, with computer scientist Danny Hillis and a team of engineers. The idea is to create a provocation large enough in both scale and time that, when confronted by it, we have to engage our long-term future. One could imagine that if given only five years to solve an issue like climate change, it is very difficult to even know where to begin because the time scale is unreasonable. But if you reset the scale to 500 years, even the impossible can start to seem tractable…[ ]