It’s been two weeks since I left Japan and returned to Australia. I’m back to bare feet and red mud and the smell of summer storms. To curlews and cows and countless cups of tea at the kitchen bench.
Everything is the same as it has always been, which feels off-kilter with the very altering experiences of the past six months or so. I’ve always liked to think I can work well outside my comfort zone, but Japan was a whole new level. If my normal limit-pushing was jumping off a cliff, this was diving headfirst without checking if there was water to break my fall. But with great challenges come greater rewards.
The overwhelming unfamiliarity gave me an opportunity to strip back my sense of self and remember what I really value, in myself and others. On a less introspective level, I met an incredible bunch of brilliant, beautiful, unforgettable humans to work and play alongside. I learned a new language, albeit at the most rudimentary level. I built a (temporary) life in a place where I couldn’t even communicate with the mailman, and that felt like a huge achievement.
Thank you to everyone that made this possible. The application process was twice as long as the experience itself and I am so grateful to everyone that supported and assisted me in that, from editing essays to practice interviews to writing letters of reference. Thank you for every word of encouragement and for patiently listening to me talk about this exchange and Japan for the past year or more.
I never understood before what it was about Japan that captivated people and compelled them to stay, but there is a kind of magic in manic cities interspersed with peaceful pockets of shrines and temples; silent subway cars and endless red gates; ancient forests and futuristic skyscrapers. Japan is more than millions of people – it is millions of places and stories and I am so glad to have been part of it, just for a little while.