Lessons from Japan

It’s important for a writer to know when it’s time to put down the pen and paper (or keyboard) and go outside; after all, what’s a writer to write about if they don’t go out in search of inspiration? I have recently returned from my first overseas adventure—in fact, I am writing this on a domestic flight back to my local airport—and learnt a lot of important lessons about writing and about myself while I was away.

Lesson #1: I am much stronger than I thought

I’m surprised by my ability to persevere and problem solve. I travelled to Tokyo and Kyoto in Japan—an amazing country of bicycles, bullet trains, and a language barrier. Starting my overseas experiences with a trip to the most populated city in the world may seem absurd, but now that I’ve conquered this adventure, it makes me feel more capable of going on another. After all, if I can survive somewhere as overwhelming as Tokyo, surely my next trip will be easy by comparison.

Not only that, but I now feel more capable in my day-to-day life. Simply being in a place where almost everyone speaks English currently feels like a luxury (though I’m sure I will get used to it again much too quickly). If I can order food off a menu or navigate a subway station where everything is written in Japanese, then I’m surely able to tackle almost any challenge back here in Australia.

Lesson #2: ‘Firsts’ are exhausting, and you need to be kind to yourself

Visiting a new place involves a lot of ‘firsts’. This was my first overseas trip, my first journey through passport checks and immigration, my first flight longer than two hours (it took about nine and a half), my first time in a place where English isn’t the dominant language, and my first experience of the fabled ‘culture shock’. Every moment in Japan was exhausting, from the long days exploring as many shrines and department stores as possible, to the more restful days of hotel buffets and strolls through Shinjuku. Every conversation required me to use a language I’m unfamiliar with, every walk required me to recall maps and directions, and every subway trip brought new difficulties.

These exhausting ‘firsts’ are the amazing parts of the trip that will stay with me, but I know the sleep-ins and afternoon naps that we treated ourselves to were just as important, as they allowed us to maintain the energy to appreciate our adventures. It’s easy to feel guilty for ‘wasting time’ on a trip like this, it’s always important to be kind to yourself, even when you aren’t on holiday.

Lesson #3: Write when the words feel easy

I write for a lot of reasons: for paid freelance articles, for my studies, for my website, and for fun. Sometimes I get so lost in my work-related reasons for writing that I forget about how much I enjoy writing once I’m on a roll. A lot of the time I have to write whether I’m enjoying myself or not, mostly because of the dreaded deadline, but it’s also important to just write when the words feel easy.

While I was away, I limited myself to writing only when it felt easy. When the words were churning around in my head, bubbling over, and I simply had to get them out—that’s when I sat down and wrote. When I told people this, I was instructed to stop—‘Stop working! You’re on holiday!’—but I refused to listen. It was nice to rediscover the compulsion of writing while I was away.

Of course, this isn’t something I can always maintain; there will always be deadlines and the incomplete scribbles that I wrote while on holiday are not enough to meet them. But I feel that writing for myself, writing for fun, has reinvigorated the creative part of my mind and will allow the ‘work’ words to feel easier too. I want to incorporate the practice of writing for fun, or when the words feel easy, more regularly into my life now that I’m home, as a way of reawakening the writer in me and to remind myself that I do actually enjoy my work (most of the time).

I learnt a lot of other tidbits of information while I was away, like how to apologise in Japanese, how Japanese shoe sizes work, how long I can survive without eating or sleeping, and how to entertain myself in an airport for eight hours. (Actually, I don’t think I ever really learnt that last one, even though I attempted the task twice during my trip. Airports are interesting for the first couple of hours, but it quickly gets old.) I’m excited to see how all of these little lessons and ideas help me feel even more comfortable on my next wonderful adventure, and also how they find their way into my writing in the future. In fact, some of them already have.