It was a beautiful, spring day in Kyoto, Japan. The sun was bright and warm against my bare arms. It was the first time in months I’d been able to step outside without any type of jacket on, and I’d had to go halfway around the world to do it. Even the gentle breeze was warm, and in fact I welcomed it, because with each gust of wind hundreds of cherry blossom petals flew through the air, leaving me, as well as everyone around me, breathless.
I wasn’t thinking about my novel as I stood atop the old, unused train tracks that day, the branches around me so filled with cherry blossoms that it was like walking among the clouds. Blane and Liam weren’t on my mind as I wandered along the Path of Philosophy, watching as small petals danced gently from the trees and into the canal beside me. Magic was not something I was thinking about concretely as I stared out at mount Fuji, my sight obscured by nothing more than the blossoming petals on the trees in front of me.
But my stories, my characters, and how I write were all being influenced subconsciously as I observed a sight I had dreamed of seeing for over a decade.
The travel bug didn’t bite me until I was older than most. When I was growing up I didn’t take a lot of trips with my parents. We didn’t have tons of money and my parents simply didn’t have much interest in traveling far from home. I saw plenty of places around Wisconsin and we took several trips to Tennessee to visit family, but outside of the occasional trip to Chicago most of our trips were to places I already knew fairly well.
During university when travel abroad opportunities didn’t work out, I made a plan to take a 10 day trip to England with a friend from high school. Since then, in 2012, I haven’t looked back. I’ve done a lot of travel over the past 6 years, including England, Wales, Paris, Canada, Boston, Hawaii, and of course, Japan. Each place I’ve gone to has in some way had an impact on my writing.
Sometimes the impact is direct. I’ll see something beautiful or amazing that becomes a setting in a story, or I’ll meet an interesting person that inspires a character. But more often it is the feeling I get when I travel that fills me with inspiration. It is experiencing new cultures and landscapes that opens my eyes to something new on a deeper level that changes something in myself, as well as how I write.
I don’t know yet all the ways my two week trip to Japan will influence my writing, but I do know how the trip made me feel.
I could write pages and pages about my trip to Japan; the places I saw, the food I ate, the people I met; all of it was incredible. But I want to focus today on the aspects of this amazing country that have touched the way I feel and will likely the way or things I write.
First off, the Japanese people. I have never been treated so kindly in a foreign country, or even another state, as I was in Japan. For example, the day we landed in Tokyo my wife and I were looking at a map on my phone to locate our hotel. In under two minutes a Japanese man had approached us asking where we were going. He looked at the map and led us from the train station to our hotel.
A few days later an older Japanese gentleman stopped us and practiced languages with us. We had lunch with a Japanese family in Tokyo and they were incredibly generous. I took Japanese in school so I was able to communicate a bit more than the average tourist, which a lot of people seemed to appreciate. Thanks to my friend Kaitlyn, who we stayed with, I was also able to attend a tea ceremony class and tour a Japanese school. I feel like I got amazing insight into the culture through the people I met outside of a tourist setting.
The temples in Japan and shrines will probably not have a huge impact on my writing, though. I have a lot of respect for Shintoism and Buddhism. I think the religions are extremely beautiful, but I had a hard time allowing myself to properly enjoy the temples. I’m not very religious and that made me feel like an intruder. After all, there were many people praying at these locations and I wanted to remain respectful and out of the way. I’m hoping the next time I go back I can let myself be enveloped a little bit more. Despite this, simply roaming the gardens and occasionally, even rooms within the temple gave me an amazing sense of tranquility that could have an impact on my focus while writing in the future.
Of course I can’t talk about a trip to Japan without talking about how the technology has impacted my ideas. I’m not a huge fan of cities, but I loved Tokyo. It didn’t feel like a tourist attraction, it felt like a place where people live and work. But it also was a city so different from any city I have ever been to. I stayed in a capsule hotel. I saw virtual reality games in every arcade I visited. I went to themed cafes where I was completely immersed into a different time period while in the middle of a modern city. I’m not sure what impact this will have on my current novel, but I do have ideas for new stories.
The nature in Japan is the least concrete subject that influences my writing, but it is also what has the largest influence. Nature makes me feel spiritual in a way that churches do not, and that was the same in Japan. It’s hard to put how I feel about this into words. I spent hours gazing at cherry blossom trees, mount Fuji, and beautiful forests. They gave me a sense of calm and introspection. Places like this that produce feelings like this really inspire me to write, and inspire me to write better.
Other Travel Destinations
I’ve had plenty of other travel destinations that have inspired my writing. There are some really important aspects of some of my novels that are completely influenced by places I have traveled to in the past. The cave Liam spends his time in was inspired by the lava rocks I saw silhouetted against the ocean in Hawaii. In Seeking Utopia, the first novel in a trilogy I am working on, a very important location is based on the ruins of Caerphilly Castle in Wales, a place I spent hours exploring on my first international trip in 2012.
The main image of my website is a photo I took in Toronto, Canada. Different cultures I’ve experienced have influenced characters and settings. It’s impossible to separate my writing from my experiences traveling.
People have asked me before why I’ve not started travel blogging, and there’s a few reasons why. While I’ve thought about being a digital nomad in the past, I can safely say it is not for me. As many travel bloggers will tell you, travel blogging is a lot of hard work. I completely respect it as a profession, but I want to focus my energy on creating content, not SEO tactics and marketing.
Beyond that, I don’t want to see a beautiful destination and worry about how to take the perfect Instagram photo. Because my travel is really focused on how a destination makes me feel and how it can influence my fictional writing, I don’t want to get hung up on small details like that.
Plus there are the practical matters of being a travel blogger. While I love to travel and love to write, I don’t actually enjoy writing about my travel experiences, even in a personal blog to look back on later. Honestly, the task bores me. Even telling friends and family members about my trip can become tedious after a while.
I also really enjoy having a home. By the end of my trip to Japan I was ready to get home, not because I wasn’t having fun, but because I wanted the chance to relax. And while I know I would be able to travel more slowly if I was a travel blogger, I’m not sure I would. I’m an obsessive planner, and for travel blogging you need to be flexible. I really struggle with being flexible.
Though I’d love to be sponsored to take a trip so if anyone can make that happen it would be great. I’ll make sure to use the location in my next book.