I usually spend April sending ‘It’s gonna be May’ memes to friends, but this year, I did something different: I went to Japan! やったー (“yattā!” which means, “Hooray!” in Japanese)!
Primarily, this epic vacation to Tokyo and Kyoto was a family trip to celebrate two of my nearest and dearest family members who welcomed their 4th decade on Earth this year. Secondarily, the 2-week trip to the Land of the Rising Sun was an opportunity for me to replenish my dry wells of creativity. Up until this point, the entirety of my 2023 was a blurry runaway train of surviving, not thriving. I acerbically called it the Stress Express, which was a classic consequence of saying, “Yes,” a few too many times.
This trip to Japan was a chance to hit the reset button through immersion in a culture and environment so vastly different from my own in hopes that the new, stimulating surroundings would recharge my creative batteries and fuel inspiration for fresh ideas. Although the fruit of those inspirational seeds is yet to come, I can feel them growing in the recesses of my mind since settling back home in the suburbs of Chicago. I trust in a few weeks, I’ll rock out something creative for my clients with Brim Branding and for my fonts with Font Infusions.
(Note: I’m revisiting this blog post that has been in my Drafts folder for 4 months, and I can confirm I have since experienced a creative surge since my return. Yay!)
Art and design are infused into every pore and crevice of the mega city of Tokyo. From architecture to murals, to the breezy and effortless fashion of its citizens, from museums to even the way the streets are paved, art is everywhere. And there is just SO. MUCH. STIMULUS that my eyes voraciously drank up as much of the surroundings as possible. The visual candy delivered a constant dopamine hit to my art-starved mind. I enjoyed feeling my brain processing new visual input, especially with regard to signage. Because I can’t read Japanese script, I processed everything from purely a design lens. This reverse-engineered my information processing: Instead of intaking Function first and then Form second, I observed Form first, then Function second. This daily exercise became a trust fall for my brain: I didn’t comprehend the Japanese typography that glowed and pulsed in neon and LED, but I felt a deep appreciation for the inherent beauty of its design.
The most overwhelming was the busyness of the train stations, which are essential hubs. Seemingly thousands of citizens zipping in a multitude of directions to their destinations was chaos embodied in a way I have never witnessed before. But in looking at the faces of commuters, everyone seemed calm. The chaos balanced with calm was also notable in the balance of the metropolis and the serenity of nature. Our traveling group split our time in the Harajuku district over the course of two days: We called them City Day and Nature Day. We spent our City Day strolling along Takeshita Street, which is a pedestrian street lined with eccentric shops, cafes, and street vendors amidst a sea of fashion-forward shoppers. We also gazed upon the ultra-modern mirrored entryway of Tokyu Plaza Omotesando Harajuku. Conversely, on the other side of this coin of chaos/calm, we spent our Nature Day walking along the sacred pathways of Meiji Jingu Shrine which is set against traditional Japanese scenery amidst 175 acres of lush green forest. All of these touchstones of nature – the shrine structures, pathways, and forest – are found within the megacity of Tokyo. Chaos and calm.
This point is a classic case of a parent wanting to replicate an experience that they had growing up. My first airplane ride was when I was a 5-month-old infant, and it was on a trip to the Philippines. (It wasn’t for fancy or happy reasons. My maternal grandmother was dying, and my mom and aunt needed to get her back home.) Thankfully, since then, travel plans have been for happy agendas, and I have enjoyed the privilege of traveling relatively regularly ever since. Experiencing other countries and cultures has shaped my life perspective and expanded my empathy, compassion, and gratitude. I want that same experience for my daughter. It was also so gratifying to see her experience things that I didn’t experience at that age, like riding the Shinkansen, using chopsticks at a shabu shabu dinner, or walking through the gates of Fushimi Inari.
My creative recharge and exploring the culture of 🇯🇵 Japan🇯🇵 have invigorated my creative thinking. Life’s routine and demands make it tough to carve out that time, but this latest trip was a reminder of just how essential it is to do that for ourselves. Even if it’s not an international jaunt across the globe, it’s important to still take that time for yourself to be creative. Maybe you can wake up an hour earlier to take a walk outside or visit a museum for an afternoon or open a notebook and doodle without judgment. (This is just as much of a reminder for myself as it is for you.)
Just sitting in my thoughts alone, and letting thoughts wash over me, is something that I correlate very closely to childhood. Everything I do now longs to go back to that state of being. When I wake up every day, I think, “When can I have time to do nothing?”
Do you remember days when you had zero plans and agendas? I cherish memories of being alone with my thoughts, and then creating sketches, essays, and poetry that explore different philosophies and theories, and countless what if’s. Especially after the pandemic lockdown, I see creative retreat, recharge, and travel with a whole new set of eyes and gratitude.
Our world is both big and small. And we deserve to explore every part of it with our thoughts. When we make time for a creative recharge and meditation, we create time to be at peace with ourselves and to preserve our own unique energy. And that will put out positivity into the world. When we make time for ourselves, we allow ourselves to be better people.