Recently I wrote a post about what the first few days after moving to Japan would be like: pregnant with foreshadowing of the anxiety, loneliness, and awesomeness you’re at that time altogether too busy to mind. But after I wrote the article, it struck me that I hadn’t written enough.
Because after those first few days the reality of moving abroad creeps in like an advancing shadow, a marching wall of mountains, with mountains coming from the tops of those mountains–too big and tall and impenetrable to challenge alone. It’s tough living abroad at first. You’re isolated, and unless you’re comfortable with spending a lot of time with yourself, you’re going to have growing pains.
In those first few weeks here, more than anything else, you need to chart the undiscovered land outside your door. Because before you do it’s the wild–a place unknown that the primitive mind equates with danger.
In my case, there was an undiscovered country whispering “come and see” just outside, and it charmed me out of my little coffin-sized apartment to taste the mystery myself. You need to wander in Japan for the same reasons babies grasp at whatever is in their reach. We need to touch something to understand it. Wandering puts your feet on the ground. It gives your roots something to bite into after being shocked by the transplant to foreign soil. It gives the mystery a face, makes it approachable–familiar. And that’s when the stem can break through the dirt.
I took to making long walks whenever I had the time. The point was to never have a destination.
“Today,” I would say, “I’ll take this street.” And when I found an intersection where both ways looked particularly inviting I said “tomorrow I’ll take that one, but today–this one.”
I can’t tell you how satisfying those walks were. I don’t doubt you could have the same experience by just exploring your local city, but magnify that gratification by Japan and you’ll get a sense of how it felt to discover all those little facets of my new locality. There’s treasure out there, diamonds and rubies, hidden in what most people would just call “part of the neighborhood.”
But as I’ve said before, when you’re abroad, local isn’t local. Local is flung halfway across the galaxy. Everything has a spark of life that your undeveloped eyes haven’t adjusted to yet. For the resident Japanese it’s just another part of the day, but for you who are just discovering this wonderful country–it’s magic.
Even if you’re just visiting I would recommend taking one morning or evening out of your trip just to go and see. You’ll probably have jet lag anyway, so why waste a night trying to sleep when you know you’ll never be able to?
What can you find? Things like this. I know I’m not a great photographer, and some of these pictures are really bad quality, but what I’m putting out there is the content. Every picture I found by just wandering around. I wasn’t trying to take any of them–they just happened. I found something and took a picture, something totally unexpected and beautiful. And this isn’t even all, just a few of the times I had my camera with me.
Just take a walk–around Japan, around anywhere. You’ll find treasure too.
When in Japan, go and see. These pictures didn’t even include the restaurants I found, and the friends I made of the chefs. Those kinds of places–with real live people in them–took time for me to work up the nerve to enter into (Because, hey, this is IntrovertJapan, after all) but every time I walked by them, they became less a chance to embarass myself and more a piece of my internal geography begging to be explored.
And that’s the way to do it, one step at a time.