At first, things were difficult. A language I didn't speak, a half-assed effort to fit into the foreign social protocols of a vastly different society, and no friends or acquaintances.
Even among other international students I realized how varied peoples' values were. We tend to surround ourselves with the same set of people in our own bubble. In my case, these were artists, designers, and coders.
But in Japan, I met with people from all walks of life; ones that didn't care much for my hobbies or art. I was used to sharing a portfolio and website as a conversation starter. Without that, I was left wondering how to find common ground.
But what began as a social challenge became the greatest blessing.
Productivity is all I cared for. But, in Japan, the way of life was simpler. Time didn't quite move as much, and the present remained in clear sight.
In my world, all we spoke about were projects, work, and careers.
But in Japan, among the friends I made, I faced a world where traditional career achievements mattered as little as they should. Along with them, I let go of the burdens and anxieties that plague a reality where your worth is determined by anonymous followers and social validation.
I haven't let go of productivity, but now it shares my mental space with other fulfillment-breeding habits. The struggle is never-ending, but each day spent focusing on what one enjoys doing is a step closer to stripping your happiness away from the hands of others and claiming it for yourself.
I yearn now for what I had in Japan.
The awkward handshakes and shy smiles of new acquaintences.
The late-night conbini runs, evenings out in the park, and nighttime conversations about the world and life.
The passionate professors who spoke with conviction about syntax, architecture, and games.
The rehearsals and live shows in tiny venues and warm crowds.
The trips through cities and mountains by car, and the exhausting hundreds of kilometers traversed on bicycles.
In short, I yearn for what my time in Japan has taught me: to pursue not only creation, but also experience.
This is all extremely cliché - more than I'd like to admit - but this was the best year of my life. I wanted an adventure, and the experience fulfilled and exceeded those expectations.
To those who made that journey possible, to those who shared it with me, and to those who taught me so much. You know who you are. Thank you, and I look forward to sharing the next adventure with you.