The East has always been associated with renewal. The sun rises from this direction, bringing light to the world and, metaphorically, to our minds. The answers coming from the East contrast with the darkness and mystery of the West. It's no wonder that many soul searching journeys will be headed east. In the ancient world, maps often had East at the top instead of North, giving it the additional meaning of being the "right" direction. note
While west is a direction associated with unknown and new adventures, east is where the protagonist gets a better understanding of him/herself. In Western works, a cause of this association is often the stereotyped view of Orient, depicting it as a highly spiritual place. This is why many Eastward Endeavors will have mystical elements and take place in The Shangri-La or some equivalent.
Characters seeking cures or wanting to fix something also have a tendency to go east. This is also an opportunity to get rid of something, like a dangerous MacGuffin or a flawed personality. The later will often be replaced by the "true self" the protagonist will have unlocked by travelling eastwards.
Note: this trope is for when the journey east has symbolism and meaning beyond just "Character X happens to go east". For examples to count, they have to imply renewal, fixing/getting rid of something, or some kind of spiritual quest.
A Left-Justified Fantasy Map will often lead to this trope.
- Marvel uses this trope quite a lot:
- Doctor Doom is a rare villainous example. He travelled the world after the accident that damaged his face, eventually getting to Tibet and collapsing on a mountainside, where he was rescued by mysterious monks. They taught him their secret disciplines and helped him forge his trademark Powered Armor. He went back to Latveria and took it over, becoming one of the most powerful and effective supervillains in the world.
- Doctor Strange was a famous surgeon who lost his operating skills after his hands were injured in a car crash. He was also a selfish jerk. Obsessed with finding a cure, he went to Tibet to study magic with the Ancient One. He was only accepted as a student after saving the Ancient One from Mordo's plans, all according to the plan. He mellowed out, became a mystic protector of Earth, and eventually Sorcerer Supreme.
- Immortal Iron Fist: During a journey to the mystical city of K'un L'un in China, Harold Meachum causes the deaths of his business partner Wendell Rand and his wife Heather. Rand's son Danny swears to get his revenge on Meachum and stays in K'un L'un to learn martial arts. He defeats the dragon Shou-Lao to get the power of the Iron Fist. Ten years later, he finds and confronts Meachum, now legless due to an injury that happened after abandoning the Rand family. Danny decides to spare him and focuses his power on superheroics, becoming a master of martial arts.
- When the X-Men went to Japan for Logan and Mariko's wedding, Storm met Logan's ally Yukio. At the time, Storm was struggling with her repressed passions, unsure if she should drop her usual unemotive attitude. Yukio's daredevil behavior influenced her into nourishing her passions. The change led her to get a mohawk and become stronger than ever, particularly after getting depowered. She even got promoted to team leader for a long time. Finally, the considerable amounts of Ship Tease she had with Yukio unlocked some of her more personal wishes. A later annual showed her heart's desire was to live a carefree life in Tokyo with Yukio.
- In X-Statix, Guy Smith traveled to the East in pursuit of ways to control his severely-heightened sense of touch.
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
- This trope backfired in Carl Barks' classic "Tralla La" story. Uncle Scrooge is so stressed by his money-centric life that he tries to escape it for a while, searching for a place without a monetary system to relax. He and his nephews discover Tralla La, hidden in the Himalayas. However, Scrooge brings his troubles with him, accidentally making bottle caps the new money of Tralla La and ruining the paradise he was looking for.
- A sequel by Don Rosa has the ducks searching for the mythical city of Xanadu and discovering it's actually Tralla La. The bottle cap situation was solved while they weren't there and Tralla La was back to being an utopia. Scrooge and co. start to enjoy it again until they accidentally flood the city. They actually solve that problem (ironically with the help of the bottle caps, forged into saws to access the floodgate) and leave the city for good.
- Doctor Strange (2016) is based on the comics, so Stephen Strange gets his hands injured, his career ruined and hears of the Ancient One. Seeking a cure for his hands, he goes east and is deeply changed by his experience there. His Jerkass tendencies are washed away by his training with the Ancient One, and he eventually realizes he doesn't need perfect hands to practice magic. By the end of the movie, he's as much of a hero as the rest of the MCU, and a pretty good sorcerer to boot.
- Kingdom of Heaven: Balian, the protagonist, travels from France to Jerusalem to get absolvation from his sins. His father, Godfrey, also travels with Balian, and although Godfrey dies before reaching Jerusalem, the time he spent with Balian on their journey gives him catharsis.
- Discworld: While the disc doesn't have an east (or any of our directions), the trope is parodied via the many monasteries of the Ramtops, where saffron-robed monks carry out many mystical duties of varying importance for the rest of the world. It's mentioned that wisdom is one of the few things that appears bigger the farther away it is, resulting in many people seeking enlightenment coming to the monasteries. Just as many younger monks head off to Ankh-Morpork to learn foreign wisdom. Lu-Tze is particularly successful at it.
- Hermann Hesse's short novel Journey to the East begins with a group of people, including the narrator, undertaking an eastward journey in search of the "ultimate Truth", a trip that is described as taking them through time, space and imaginary lands. They never actually finish the journey — their group dissolves partway into the Journey due to petty bickering, infighting and the various personal faults of its members. It turns out later that the Journey was meant as a test of character for its members, one that they failed spectacularly. This could be considered a failed attempt at invoking this trope — they were supposed to overcome their worst qualities as they journeyed, but they didn't, and thus never reached their destination.
- In Kushiel's Legacy, Phedre journeys to the setting's equivalent of the Middle East to rescue Melisande's son from slavery, but comes to realize that it is central to her patron deities' ineffable plans for her. It becomes abundantly clear when she sees her Darkest Hour coming, tries to back out, and receives a vision of said deities withdrawing their favour if she doesn't carry on.
- Tolkien's Legendarium:
- The Hobbit: Bilbo gets dragged into the dwarves' quest to get Smaug's treasure in the east. He's more or less useless at the beginning, but some incidents later (including getting the One Ring and saving the party from huge spiders) he becomes much more competent. In the end, his experiences turned him into a full Gentleman Adventurer.
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring travels east and south with the goal of destroying the One Ring. The destination, Mordor, is much more sinister than the usual setting for this trope, but it still manages to unlock the hero in Frodo and Samwise. The other Fellowship members also become incredible badasses during the quest, or even better if they already were.
- In the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve travelled eastwards after being exiled from Eden for eating the forbidden fruit, gaining knowledge of good and evil. After the murder of his brother and his own banishment, Cain travelled further east towards the land of Nod. All this eventually culminated in the human race, now numerous, moving further and further east until they reached a plain called Shinar, where they built the Tower of Babel, an endeavor that resulted in the newly polyglot human race scattering to the four corners of the Earth. Whether one considers the eventual results of these developments to be for the better or for the worse is a very contentious matter, but in Abrahamic tradition, the journey from ignorance and innocence towards modern humanity began when Adam and Eve (and their eventual successors) journeyed east of Eden.
- The second half of The Epic of Gilgamesh is concerned with Gilgamesh's journey eastwards in his quest to find a cure for death, after being badly shaken by the death of his friend Enkidu. He travels to the earthly paradise of the gods at the easternmost edge of the Earth, and then goes even farther east, across the sea, to the island where the mariner Utnapishtim lives and where he can find a plant that grants back youth. He fails in getting this plant, but in the uttermost east he learns to accept his mortality and overcomes the fear of death that has hounded him since Enkidu died, returning home a wiser man (at least by the standards of the ancient Middle Eastern societies) and at peace with himself.