We don’t often have reason to think of where we’ve come from and where we’ve gone. In this world of instant communication and a fascination with youthful impulsivity, even less so.

Travel bloggers just seem to show great views and great experiences, every week in a different place, all somehow the same.
Traveling, anyways, is often about the discovery of the new.

Only too often, it is not actually anything new we “discover”. Often, it is only that we finally get somewhere ourselves, in person, we have seen thousands of times in books and movies – and more and more, on Instagram.

One of the perks of not being the youngest anymore, having some personal experiences and some interest in family history, is the potential it holds for seeing places again. With that comes a realization of what has stayed the same and what has changed, in the world and about us ourselves; what interests still hold fascination and what things we have learned…

Japan, 1997

One of my “early” travel experiences had been a study tour to Japan some 20 years ago.

It came at a time when I was already at university (and following an interest in ecology as well as in cultural anthropology / East Asia).

A time when Japan had already entered its “lost decade(s)” but what one learned in books and pop culture was still the fear of this economic powerhouse set to “rule the world”.
It was still a time when it was assumed that Japanese would be a good language to learn as the future would be shaped there.

Well, now it is China that seems set to ascend – but very differently.

The rise in economic and geopolitical importance is definitely there, but no one is quite sure how stable it will be.
The rise in (pop) cultural importance is much less there than Japan has staid of, at least “exotic”, interest.

Japan still remains a fascination, an oh-so-different country and culture and society.

Lessons Learned

Getting to some of the same places after a 20-year-absence, having learned a lot and experienced quite a different world since then, was fascinating.

Past Fears

It was all the more fascinating as I can still, as I mention in my vlog video, remember how I couldn’t quite imagine traveling there alone – right around Kyoto Station where I traveled again this time. Alone. Like it was the most normal thing in the world, no problem whatsoever.

Of course, it was little problem.

You still need money; you still face a language barrier; it still helps to have an idea of the culture and its norms to behave fittingly and to not just see stuff, but actually experience fully what you see.

Present Ease

But, to get places, you can just check the timetables and routes on Google Maps… which seems to make us rather less likely to actually engage quite as fully as we could, distracted as we tend to become by Instagram and the “need” to immediately show where we have gone.

It still feels strange, in that regard, to talk about these experiences months after they happened; it still seems to confuse people when I post photos of that to Instagram only now – and it is all the more interesting to look through old photos of my own and see what I can recognize, and what lost almost all context…