When I returned home, I watched every British show available on Netflix, I read dozens of books set in London and I told everybody what a life-changing experience it was. And it was, in so many ways.
Well, I went to Japan last month and now I have a new obsession.
It wasn't the same kind of life-altering experience - I've had a major life change in mind for a while now. But this trip made me realize that that major life change would be doable and maybe even super fun.
Ostensibly, I went to Japan for my friend Tatsuya's wedding in Nagoya (pictured above).
We met in 1998, I believe, when I was traveling through Europe. I ran into Tatsuya when he was drinking beer from a huge stein at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich. A few years later, he stayed with me in Philly and later, I went to see him and his family in Japan. Our parents became friends and his family visited my mother in Delaware.
When my Japanese cousin passed away in the early 2000s, I asked Tatsuya to call my uncle to translate a message for me because my Japanese wasn't sufficient enough to express my feelings. It was a huge favor, so I'll always owe him.
After the wedding, Katherine and I went to Tokyo for a few days.
For years, my mother had been telling me how expensive everything is there. But we found a really nice hotel for about $100 per night. We took cabs and Ubers, we rode the subway and we walked everywhere. We had great meals, saw rockabilly guys dancing, played with cats at a cat cafe, watched robots battle, went dancing at a Tokyo hotspot and we generally explored an incredibly foreign place.
And we survived just fine. In fact, it was really fantastic.
Culturally, we managed. Financially, it wasn't bad at all. And we got by with my meager Japanese.
It was pretty magical, to tell you the truth. It helped having a travel companion who was easy to get along with. I'm not a planner and that can make some people freak out. We just did whatever we felt like doing, whenever stuff popped up.
In Philly, I feel at home. I have a love of Cagli, in Italy. And London just intrigues me to no end.
But there is nowhere in the world where I feel a stronger connection to the land than in Sasebo. My ancestors and family have lived there, in the same spot, for hundreds of years. I've been visiting there for 45 years. It just feels right.
And now, all I can think about is returning.
When I was in my 20s, I did a lot of traveling. You know, bouncing around from city to city, seeing the sights. In my 30s, I began spending extended periods in the same town - Cagli, Armagh, London, really absorbing the local culture. It was all an effort to find a place to land, I think.
I think I'd like to land in Japan for a while.
I'm hoping to teach in Tokyo, which would allow me to visit Sasebo much more frequently. I'm putting plans together to get there before the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Not sure it will all fall into place but I feel like this is something I have to do.
Not sure how long I'd go for. Maybe a few years. Maybe the rest of my life. I have no idea. I'd love to return to London, however. And I could see myself retiring in Cagli.
Or I could switch cities and countries every few years? The world is a huge place.
I have no idea what the future holds. But I'm hoping it involves at least a few years in Japan.