Christopher McCandless was a 22-year old American university graduate from a well-to do family. In 1990 he moved out of his apartment, gave away all his money, cut off all contact with his family and everyone he knew, and set off across the US on a grand adventure. He spent two years wandering all over the country. He was an intelligent and gifted young man, who made quite an impact on the people who met him. Jon Krakauer wrote a fine book about him, which was later made into a great film.
McCandless had strong convictions and very high standards. He clashed constantly with his parents. He was a good student, a great athlete, and was also musically gifted. He had the intelligence to follow whatever career he wanted in life. Instead, inspired by books and high ideals, he answered the call of the wild.
He wanted to live free from his parents, from society, to be uncompromised by rules and conventions he didn’t approve of. To challenge himself and truly live in nature, instead of just existing in a world he saw as being plastic and fake.
He did all these things. And then he died. He starved to death, alone in a rusting bus in Alaska. He was 24.
I am not Chris McCandless by any stretch of the imagination. But I recognize something of myself in him, and something of my time in Japan in his two-year odyssey across America.
Like him, I love books and reading. Like him, I can be stubborn, and I have an idealistic streak that doesn’t always fit so well into the real world. Like him, I had issues that contributed to me moving very far away from home, in my case all the way from Australia to Japan.
Of course, Tokyo is not Alaska. But although my time in Japan has been far from the kind of adventure that Chris McCandless experienced, it has been similar in that it is here that I have experienced both the best and worst times of my life. There have been times when my whole being has been filled with happiness, times that I have been more alive than ever before. Times when I have truly lived.
There have also been times that I wanted to die. Times when I felt so low, so self-loathing and negative, so isolated and alone that I didn’t want to go on. Times when I would have preferred to simply not wake up in the morning. To sleep forever rather than face another day.
In the time since I came to Japan I have been up and down several times, with three major bouts of depression. Each time, it got a bit worse. The last time, three months ago, was by far the worst.
I am not sure what lies ahead of me when I return to Australia. I am not sure what I will do for work, where I will live. Moving locations does not change a person. But Japan does not seem to be so good for me. I am glad that I came here, glad that I had my equivalent of a grand adventure. But I think it is time to head home.