It's simply a feeling. When I'm outside of the States I feel better - mentally, emotionally, maybe even physically. I feel alive when I am in a foreign land. All my senses are heightened. It is discovery. It is an education I could never get from a university. I find it all, even the most ordinary things, inspiring. I am fascinated by how people live. Not in a scientific anthropological way. That is for the academics. It is the details of life. That is what interests me.
It is not that I dislike my country. But the US just doesn't move me anymore. It's an old story, I know it. I've spent at least 43 of my 45 years there. It's not going to surprise or excite me at this point. It is safe to assume, statistically, that I have lived more than half of my life. Do I want to spend the next 30 or 40 years digging deeper into America? The answer is no. I've barely scuffed the rest of this great, blue marble called Earth. There is a lot more out there.
So why Kyoto? Like so many Japanese things it is difficult to explain. But I feel a connection. Week after week, month after month in Kyoto I found more and more in common with the Japanese. Habits, a certain aesthetic, an approach to life. The way I do things, things I've done since I was an adolescent, I discovered were the same as the Japanese. I would have regular "ah-yes-of-course" moments, when I would suddenly understand, and realize at the same time that I always knew. My short answer to that question is: I simply like the Japanese way. I smile a lot in Kyoto.
I'm not trying to be Japanese. As anyone that knows me can attest, I've always been more oriented towards Europe. Since my first trip to Germany when I was 12-years-old I've been captivated by European culture. Japan was certainly on my radar of places I wanted to go, but I visited London, Paris, Berlin and Milan dozens of times before I ever thought to go to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Is it possible to face the wrong direction for 30 years? To look for oneself in the wrong place? I've always maintained that you can't know the place you grew up in, or the place where you are currently living is the best until you have lived elsewhere. How can you say, "New York is the best city in the world"? Or Boise or Gstaad or Johannesburg or Buenos Aires or Shanghai? Without traveling, without living somewhere else it is empty, jingoist braggadocio. There is a whole giant world beyond your backyard.
I do believe when you find your place you know it. There is a feeling you've lived there your whole life. That is Kyoto for me. I never thought I'd fall in love with another city after Paris. But I have. Of course New York inspired me for a time and I'll always love New York. But I don't need New York anymore, I've outgrown it.