9 January 2018
It feels good to be back in Japan.
What a strange thing to say. Before leaving on a month-long excursion through Vietnam and Cambodia, I was so done with Japan. Done with it’s orderliness, with it’s blind rule-following, done with it’s peace and quiet. I was ready for something different.
And Southeast Asia was very different. Lively, refreshing, flavorful, dirty, noisy, chaotic, a whole other world. I loved being there, I loved traveling. But coming back was nice. I knew this. I got this. This was familiar. In the past two years, without me knowing it, Japan had become my normal.
This revelation, and its implications, was shocking to me. Have I grown to old for travel? Am I settling down? Am I becoming a Japan lifer, one of those people who arrives on a year contract and never leaves? I thought of the many long-term travelers I’d met, adventurous, hardcore people in the middle of 6, 9, 13 month trips. Had living in safe, clean, quiet Japan turned me into a wuss???
But that’s not exactly the case. Living here still gives the opportunity for plenty of exploration and adventure. I don’t know if one has truly lived until one has seen Mount Fuji, or tried to mail something through the Japanese postal system. While much of the day to day has become routine, there are still many things that probably will never be.
I think what’s changed within me is not my desire for travel, but my style. When I was younger and still lived in the US, I hated coming back from long-term travel. I would go through periods of depression and withdrawal after returning. “Why don’t we have a good subway system in LA?” I’d moan, stuck in traffic in my car on the 405 freeway.
Since living abroad, that hasn’t happened. Of course I don’t like returning from vacation and going back to work, but these days a trip does what it’s supposed to do: refreshes my spirit, exposes me to a new culture and way of life, and gets my brain firing in different ways. These days, I come back excited to sit down and write, still meditating on all that I’ve seen and learned.
Now, I’m more of a “living abroad” person than a “long term traveler”. I have mad respect for all my new friends that are long term travelers, but I think it’s a bit too much for me at the moment. Too much moving, too much constant exposure to newness, too many sleepless hostel nights, not nearly enough time for processing and reflection and creation. Living abroad offers me plenty of time for travel, both within the country I’m living in and the ones that happen to be nearby, but also the time to really discover and savor it.
Of course, some of this excitement stems from the fact that while I’ve returned to Japan, my resident country for the past two years, I’m also beginning a new chapter, one that finds me in one of the biggest, most thrilling cities in the world: Tokyo.