Often, I explore thoughts within myself about the reasons as to why I love Japan. And I have realized that over the course of time and of different stages in my life, the reasons changed.
The first time I probed curiously into this theme of my life was in 2012. Today I’m writing an updated version of it.
If you have read my book (if you haven’t, you can totally still get it here), you already know my story with Japan. If my inexplicable obsession with Japan still puzzles you, here’s a list of posts mostly written for the purpose of my own soul-searching that may explain things better for those who are new here.
Sometimes even I feel bewildered by my own overzealous sentiment towards a country which my passport is not issued by. Yet the yearning for more of it was unstoppable. It got only greedier, wilder, fiercer, stronger, deeper.
A disclaimer should also be made up front that every word regarding Japan that comes directly from me is spoken with straight up unapologetic bias. This is real cult. If you weren’t sure if I was serious about it, you are now.
Revisiting what I have written a decade ago confirmed that I my feelings for Japan have indeed changed, a lot. Like most people, my irrevocable love affair with Japan started with pop culture. Wondrous anime characters who drag you into fantasyland. Heart-wrenching dramas. Music full of kickass attitude. And then I accidentally got pulled into the bewitching fashion scene. Beautiful people. Ostentatious get-ups. False lashes extravaganza. Endless parties and events. And then the demand for inbound tourism began to rise and before I knew it I was conquering prefectures across the archipelago. This went on until February, 2020.
The coronavirus put all of this to a rude, abrupt halt.
Before I elaborate, I have a confession to make. I didn’t own this straight up on social media because I knew judgement would come my way.
Here it is.
I chose Japan to corona with.
Things were starting to get serious in Japan. Nobody thought it was a safe place to be. At least not any safer than where I was. An imminent lockdown at my home country was foreseen and it was my last chance to cross border.
If I were going to go through a pandemic anyway, I wanted to be weathering with Japan. As shameless as it may sound, Japan needs me. I thought. And I need Japan. More than ever. Right now. More than ever, I wanted to give all my support to Japan. If I were to spend any hard-earned money anyway, I wanted to spend it all for Japan. Considering a majority of my work income comes directly from Japanese citizens’ tax money, it was only fair I give it back to the community. On a hasty, follow-the-heart impulse, I took the next available flight I could from the county where my passport was printed and flew to Haneda with the kids amidst the whole pandemic. I didn’t know if it was the right decision, I just knew I had to do it. I left in a heartbeat.
Some may see it as an escape. A betrayal. For me I saw it as an opportunity to put my own love to test for real this time.
Spending close to 3 months in Japan riding a pandemic out in Tokyo had me thinking long and hard. I feel differently now about many things. The biggest impact this pandemic has on me, is that, of course, my work opportunities with the Japan tourism industry have all been put on hold. Most confirmed projects have been cancelled, some are postponed. I’m basically pretty jobless at the moment. And there’s no sign of work resuming any time soon. So I had to ask myself countless of times, what should I do? What is my role right now? I have never felt more powerless than the last 3 months not knowing what I can do to help the tourism community, which had been the core motivation and the ikigai of my life, basically, for the past few years. No one can come to Japan right now even if they want to. Should I still keep creating content for future reference? Prep optimistically for a cheery future where hopes are on the inbound tourism to restart in full force? No one knows how the world looks even a week later.
Now on hindsight, at this very moment, I am glad I followed my heart. Other than totally enjoying the privilege to buy ¥100 grown-in-Japan daikon and breathe/drink a free buffet of Japanese air and water and binge on combini favorites, there is another unexpected upside of going through the covid-19 days here in Japan.
That is, I get to experience the Japan without flocks of tourists. I get to feel the Japan as an insider. I get to dig into the sad, the ugly, the helpless in-depth, but I also get to witness the touching, the peaceful, the hopeful up-close, magnified. Now I am more sure than ever that here, is where my heart is, and I don’t think it will ever change, no matter what happens.
At the same time however, there are some things I am not so sure anymore.
I began to doubt what I have firmly believed for almost the whole of my “influencer” life, that my mission is to share the beauty of Japan with the whole world. The nice, the beautiful, the classic, the weird, the crazy, the hidden… everything worth sharing so long as I can get just one more person on this planet interested in seeing Japan more favorably.
What if… that isn’t what I believe anymore?
Seeing how Japan struggle with non-love from people who feel to me like they didn’t want to see it fare better, be it with an intention or not, was quite painful. And that was when I knew I cannot share my love for Japan with the world without getting hurt in the process.
I have been asked before – why do you only write about the good sides of Japan? What about all the negative sides?
These people are not going to like my answer.
There’s no bad side.
I mean like, none. I’m serious.
It’s true. I say this with my heart. Whatever negative sides of Japan that bother others don’t bother me. At least not to the extent I consider it a bad side. But on the flip side of the coin, I too fully understand that not everyone feels the same as me when it comes to the “good sides”, either. There are always more than one side to something. That’s just how things work. So… It’s not Japan, it’s me. I am mentally weak and I am not ready to deal with non-love when it comes to Japan. There. I just revealed my biggest weakness to you – hurting Japan hurts me more than you hurting me directly.
It was also a moment of revelation. That maybe all along I got my life mission wrong. It was time for a change.
Old life mission: Share the wonders of Japan to the whole world so more people will love Japan!!!!
New life mission: Just f***ing love Japan more. On my own. No matter what happens.
And that has changed the whole game, all of it.
It appeared to me that my ultimate goal is not to get a bunch of people going on a plane to fly to various spots in Japan and dump money on Japan’s economy. That was maybe one of the channels to the goal, but not the goal.
My goal is just…
I want Japan to be well, and happy. With me in the picture.
Am I crazy?
With this shift of imperative, it means that now I could actually choose to stop sharing. I always thought that with the ageing population and declining birthrate conundrum, opening up Japan for an influx of immigrants and speeding up inbound tourism is the only way to save the society and economy. If only I can get more people to want to come to Japan… if only more people choose to spend their money on Japan…
Maybe, what you thought was very generous of me, the always sharing of travel tips and new hidden places and latest fancy seasonal updates and insider info, were actually all the most selfish acts of mine with the ulterior motive to benefit this island I care so much for.
Maybe I’m not so ready to compromise the Japan I know and love. Maybe I don’t want to share my Japan with so many people after all. Having seen how the inbound industry work and witnessing it fail the worst ways, sometimes even with me included as part of the disaster, I couldn’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, the trouble and hurt Japan is getting is not worth the tourist bucks. Overtourism dilemma is real. And covid-19 has revealed how vulnerable Japan has become to over rely on inbound tourism. What if I am heading the opposite direction? What if I am unknowingly ripping Japan’s wellbeing apart with my own hands?
Maybe Japan can do really well back to being just Japan for herself. To go back to what resembles the closed-door Edo again. Agriculturally rich. Self sufficient, peaceful. Without having to deal awkwardly with further unnecessary stress or have people accidentally stepping all over her kindness and weakness. People who can truly appreciate Japan and give it the love it well deserves, will always find a way here. I am here. Some people of the same cult whom I know love Japan just as much as I do, are here.
Maybe we should just… let Japan be.
Let her breathe. And find her own peace.
Of course that’s just an unrealistic naive ideal. I know that. And I also know it’s not as simple as I would like it to be. In fact reading news about how heritage sites are closing down and century-old ryokans are going bankrupt due to covid-19 is beyond heartbreaking. It’s a catch-22 situation no one has an answer to at this moment… it’s all a very conflicted and complicated feeling.
But knowing what I truly care for in this life was liberating. Maybe one day I will stop creating travel content and just go help out at a farm or a taiko community. Grow delicious daikon. Feel the heartbeat of ancient warriors through drum percussions. And I know that it is still aligned with my belief and intention and that I can still be happy. And that thought sets me free somehow.
Just like narrated in the beginning, my reasons to love Japan have changed since I first fell in love with it some 20 over years ago. I remember it was because of the crazily sought-after tamagotchi, tare panda, and cute school uniform. I remember it was because of pastel frilly dresses, mad fukubukuro sale, and obscenely adorable everything. I remember it was because of the insanely yummy furikake on white rice, the inexplicably romantic tower, the beautiful pink petals. I remember it was because of dreamy electronica that kept me inspired, a cold winter night queuing up for rides at the theme park, and warm milk tea from the vending machine that kept my hands from freezing. I remember it was because of an old obaachan who insisted I take one more pack of her dried squid for the same amount of money. I remember it was because my wishes made at secret power spots came true over and over again. I remember it was because I started to like myself more just because I was in the place I so wanted to be in. I remember it was because the addiction is real and I have promised myself to tick all the prefectures off that list.
What has changed, then, now that I know so much about Japan from a non-tourist perspective?
I have said it before in this post. My biggest fear of living in Japan was that I might stop appreciating things that I used to feel crazy for before. Quoting self, July, 2019: “Easy example – plain egg sandwiches from the combini once tasted like psychedelic unicorn dancing on rainbows, is now just… a regular delicious egg sandwich.”
To be honest, the expected has happened somehow. Actually realizing the dream of living here in Japan diminishes my desire for most material things. I crave yummy Japanese food less, I can’t remember the last time I bought a piece of clothing because I really wanted it, I won’t look twice at gatcha gatcha machines anymore and I don’t scream as loud seeing another limited sakura-edition snack. Being in here numb your feelings for many things without you realizing.
Yet I spend more time just sitting at a bench inside a shrine, and especially during corona-time, just observing patterns of woods and listening the crisp of dried leaves as I walk a step and taking photos of a random clover I found sprouting from the ground and hugging more trees, and getting so fascinated with the fact that everything changes from what I saw just a few days ago at the exact same spot, with the passing of season. Many things are indeed ninja in disguise. Now you see now you don’t. And it surprises you by turning up when you least expect it. All the little details. I also like to discover stories behind places I go, as that enriches and amplifies one’s travel experience tenfold. The more I explore, the more I am convinced that I will never, ever get tired of Japan. Ever. Not in this life. Not even the next. There’s so much to it that one lifetime is simply not enough. There’s so much to feel.
Or I’m just slowly turning into a pseudo-philosophical old fart lolol.
There isn’t a real ending to this post. It was just a furious train of internal thought of mine incidentally spilled outwards.
But, while I still can, my social media is still a virtual playground enticing and welcoming travel fantasies, this has not changed. Just don’t throw non-love my way (and you know which way I am). There’s only room for real love now. ♡