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Thoughts on Coming Back to Japan

When I left in May of 2015, it felt like a part of me actually died. It was heartbreaking to leave behind this profound culture and all the memories attached to these places. Yet I knew this was the right time to leave. This chapter of my life was done and even if we could have stayed for another year, something within me knew it was not meant to be. In many ways, living in Japan both encouraged the best of me and the worst of me. It fed my vices in a lot of ways and I felt extremely stagnated despite enjoying my day to day life. This made me question to what extent is complacency and happiness related.

Returning to Japan a year and a half later feels odd. In some foreign language somewhere, perhaps there’s a word used to describe this feeling you get when you return to a significant place that’s very much a part of you, only to find that nothing has changed, but yet everything has changed. It’s like  living in two simultaneous dimensions of yourself.

My old home, Minatomirai Yokohama
My old home, Minatomirai Yokohama

When we booked tickets last minute to come here, it felt more exciting than actually being here in some respects. Because when I got back here, things weren’t new or fresh, it just felt normal. It feels like flying home to Texas or something, not to the other side of the world. There’s a familiarity that feels like I’ve just jumped into the routine of things again, almost as if I never left. This is just interesting to think about because it’s the other side of the world.

It wasn’t until I arrived in Kyoto tonight did I feel a part of me really come to life. I love Tokyo and Yokohama and I’ve very much enjoyed being back here, but Kyoto touches a part of my soul that few places on this Earth can. There’s a magic I feel when I’m here that even the most blase traveler can’t ignore. The worst thing about traveling a lot is becoming blase, so it’s special when you find a place that makes you feel that spark of excitement that usually disappears around the time you burn through your first passport.

The first time I visited Kyoto was back in 2012. I was with a friend at the time and we had a hurried and planned trip. For that reason, I wasn’t very impressed and I didn’t really see what makes Kyoto special beyond the surface. To really see Kyoto, you need to be off a schedule and take in its vast beauty in a slow and observant way.

The second time I came here was in 2014. After a couple days, I totally fell in love with this city. This time around, it feels like every cliche that romantic travelers only hope to feel when traveling to an exotic far away place. Walking the shiny wet cobblestoned streets at night lined with Kyomachia traditional townhomes and dimly lit restaurants, a part of my soul actually comes alive here. The beauty of this city is unparalleled and fascinating.

Coming back has been interesting, though. As much as I loved living in Japan and how it even introduced me to photography, it also kept me in a perpetual state of escapism and personal stagnation. It wasn’t until I moved to Boston did I break these cycles and start to make some pretty dramatic realizations and changes. I hated Boston for a good year because the city felt like complete chaos and disorder – the opposite of zen. But ironically the opposite can be said for me.

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