Fall in Kyoto. Photo courtesy of Eri Suzuki.

“What is home?” A friend answers, “I call anywhere I go back to sleep my home.”

“I say this is my home because I just feel I belong here,” another pal offers.

This discussion isn’t bringing any new topics into my mind. In fact, I have been thinking about my own definition of “home” for a while now. Is it a place or is it in people?

An Around-The-World Journey

When I left California for my around-the-world journey, with a goal of finding home, whatever that meant. I was newly single, friends were moving out of town and I did not feel my job was my calling. Essentially, I no longer felt there was much to ground myself to where I lived for the past six years. I felt there were so much out there to be discovered and I was ready to explore more.

I set out onto a backpacking trip through Europe, then volunteered on an around-the-world cruise ship while visiting over 30 countries. Among the cities I visited, I felt some were more comfortable and attractive than the other. A list of elements in each city I liked began to form: great cafés and restaurants, cultural diversity, beautiful parks, closeness to nature, universities that give vibrant energy, friendly people.

After Europe I had the chance to live in a city that offered all of these elements: Kyoto, Japan. That being said, I never quite felt at home there. Despite all the positive amenities and characteristics of the city, it was not enough to make me feel at home.

So What Is Home?

This made me think further about what makes a home for me.

Sometimes, I wonder if this “feeling at home” is somewhat more intuitive than intellectual. I can’t quite tell what it is, but for each city there is a certain energy. It is in people, in how they talk and dress, or in the way a city is laid out — the natural and artificial elements, amount of sunlight available, how big the sky is, the most prevalent colors, the smells and sounds. It is something you can only feel by walking around the city.
I really missed the feeling that I had when I was in California, especially in San Diego. Inside I felt this “hum, I like this” feeling in Berkeley, but there is no single words to describe exactly what made me feel like that.

Sunset in California. Photo courtesy of Eri Suzuki.


Community is also a vital element for me. In Japan, I didn’t feel like I could truly be myself. I was born and grew up in Japan for 18 years before I left to study in the States. So I was away from my country of origin for 12 years and I had a hard time fitting back in. It was reverse culture shock.

First, social expectations are very subtle and hidden between lines, adding an unspoken pressure of not over-stepping the social expectations. I often wished that I had what expats call “Gaijin-card (foreigner’s card)” that gives them an excuse not to follow social expectations and rules or to make mistakes. When my friend from the U.S. were in town, I even pretended that I didn’t understand Japanese so that I could act silly with her and not feel judged.

Secondly, I had a hard time communicating my emotions in Japanese. I mastered a language of emotional expressions in English during my 20s, but not in Japanese. I recently realized that when using a second language — in my case English — I can be detached from certain images and emotions that are associated with particular words, but it is not the same when using the native language, which made it harder for me to communicate in Japanese.

The Importance Of Relationships

So, the sense of home can be based on a location or on the community. I think both are important. In the end, however, what makes me really feel at home is based on the relationships I create with people. For me, I realized a great friendship gives me a sense of grounding. Friends with whom I can talk about anything, can depend on and fully be myself around, are so precious. They are the ones who create a meaning around my life. They make home feel like home.

So, wherever I can create meaningful relationships is where I feel at home. If this is not the case then it is up to me to create a home for myself. Home might have always been within me, so the only thing needed is to open up and allow myself to be honest, vulnerable and authentic.

The connection I can make with people can be very strong. In this sense, I have a home all around the world with people I really felt an intimate connection with. Remembering these places still makes my heart fill.

Now, I am heading to a new city to live. It is a place where I had this gut feeling attracting me, Berkeley. I will be back in a place where I am used to the way of communicating. Now that I am a little more aware of the essences that I need for a home; physically, socially, and emotionally, it is time to try if I can create a home for myself there.


Eri Suzuki was born and raised in Japan. She pursued her childhood dream of becoming a dolphin researcher and studied cetacean vocalization and behavior as a student in Southern California. After graduating, she worked as a college professor teaching various biology courses before deciding to start her around-the-world backpacking trip. She has been hooked on unconventional traveling after her backpacking trip in Europe in 2011. She enjoys authentic experiences on her traveling meeting great people and sharing amazing local food. When not traveling, she enjoys camping, hiking, yoga, cooking and sharing meals with friends and her current interest is in garden education, alternative education, Eco-villeages, community development and sustainability. She currently experiments to see if she can make a living as she follow her heart and lives in unconventional lifestyle. Check out Eri’s blog to follow her journey.

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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1 Comment

  1. Eri, what a wonderful reflection on your extensive journey around the world! I love how your goal of being “honest, authentic and vulnerable”… I think most people think they want a home where they feel safe. Traveling has taught me that being vulnerable isn’t a bad thing. It beens you’re taking risks, trying new things and that’s how people grow to live a life they are proud of! Thanks for sharing your wisdom with me and the world! 🙂

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