Since I moved in my new apartment, I’ve occasionally felt a sense of homesick. Only I’ve seldom felt it for my old apartment. What I miss are shops and restaurants that I often visited, characters and mascots that were standing by the roadside or painted on signboards, and the memories associated with them. In my case, homesick isn’t for home to be exact.
I’ve moved for six times in all both domestically and internationally in my life, and the first one was when I left home where I was born and raised, and started to live on my own for the first time in Tokyo. Although it seemed like a perfect occasion to feel homesick, I was too happy to feel any. To date, I’ve never missed my hometown nor wanted to visit the house.
Recently, I’ve seen many people on TV who live in the shelters after the earthquake eager to return their hometowns instead of moving to new places. For most people, home is such an important place. I wonder if my new place here can become my home…
Episode From Surviving in Japan / Hidemi Woods
Audiobook : Japanese Dream by Hidemi Woods On Sale at online stores or apps. Apple, Audible, Google Play, Nook Audiobooks, 43 available distributors in total
The tiny close community of a small village used to be the whole world for me who was born to a farming family living in a rural area of Japan. The sole window to the outside world was TV through which I had encountered what I had never seen in my daily life.
Back in those days, Japanese TV dramas were made and shot in the capital city of Japan, Tokyo. The city view and the people’s way of living in Tokyo looked so cool. Everything from fashion to lifestyle was completely different from things in Kyoto where I lived. On TV, Tokyo seemed like a future world decades ahead to me. I was hooked by one particular weekly crime drama which was shot on location all around Tokyo. Every location looked as if it had been in a Western country and the detectives in the drama were extremely stylish. I was absorbed in seeing that exotic world every week and had spent the other six days of the week waiting for the drama. As soon as I finished watching that show, I would rush into my room and write out the entire show in the notebook. I reproduced all the lines of characters and all the settings by depending on my memory. Since there was no way to record a TV program as a video cassette recorder was yet to come, I read my notebook over and over again to watch it inside my head until the next show was on air. In hindsight, the world of TV dramas was fictional which didn’t exist even in Tokyo, but I was too young to realize that.
Years went by and I became a musician. By the time two years have passed since I joined my first band, the band not only had played gigs around Kyoto but also had made guest appearances and had our songs played on local radio shows from time to time. We had made some connections with music producers who came down to the western part of Japan from Tokyo as judges for some live contests. However, our progress was limited because all the major music labels of Japan were based in Tokyo. My partner and I began to consider moving our base to Tokyo as we were geographically too far off to make a career in music.
Moving to Tokyo was a big deal to me. While I seldom attended, it meant I would quit college once and for all. As a much more serious matter, an old Japanese custom didn’t allow a successor of the family, that was me, to leave home. For me, leaving home meant abandoning my family and all the privileges. Although it seemed crazy to throw away everything when I had no idea how to live on as a musician in Tokyo, I felt living there would be better than staying in my family’s home for the rest of my life. I preferred eating hamburgers and french fries from McDonald’s to eating home-grown vegetables from my family’s fields every single day. I knew it wouldn’t be healthy, but at least I would be able to eat what I chose, when I wanted. To sum up, moving to Tokyo was all about freedom. I was more than willing to jump into the free world where I would make all choices by myself instead of the old fixed rules and customs.
Oddly enough, things went unexpectedly smoothly once I made up my mind to move to Tokyo. Various kinds of obstructions that had been seemingly difficult to be cleared resolved themselves almost magically. The moving day arrived sooner than I had imagined.
I was waiting for the bullet train bound for Tokyo on the platform in Kyoto Station. A friend of mine came to see me off. She was surprised that she was the only one for me there. “Even your parents don’t see you off?” she sounded bewildered. I wondered what awaited me in the outside world of my window. I was both looking forward to it and afraid.
The cab was running through my familiar neighborhood where I spent my entire childhood. It was still shabby as it used to be. The cab drove through old houses of my childhood friends where I used to play with them, and under the overhead train bridge where I ran into perverts so many times. From the car window, I saw the elementary school I went to, and the sidewalk on which my first song came to me while I was walking. The bookstore where my father bought me my first English dictionary and also where he spotted his missing cousin. A place where a milk factory used to be that I waved to its plastic cows beside the gate every time I passed by in my father’s car. The old temple where my late grandparents used to take me and let me feed doves.
Then something struck me and I suddenly realized. It wasn’t just the house I was losing. I was losing my hometown and departing from my childhood. I would never be in this neighborhood again because it was going to be an unrelated, foreign place from now on. Although I had always hated my neighborhood, that thought brought a lump to my throat and soon I found myself crying. I was stunned and overwhelmed by this unexpected feeling. If I hadn’t been inside a cab, I would have wailed.
The cab came near Kyoto Station that was my destination. My late grandfather often took me to this area around the station that used to be undeveloped, decayed and in the miserable condition. But now, after years of intense redevelopment, it has become an urban area with numerous modern buildings of hotels, fashionable shops and huge shopping malls. It was a completely new different place and I found no trace of what I was familiar with the area. The cab stopped at the signal close to the station and there stood a new movie complex by the street. I casually wondered if it showed ‘Tomorrowland’. Then I felt I was actually stepping into it.
Things and places I had been with were all disappearing and a place I had never seen before appeared in front of me. I saw a change more clearly than ever. I was leaving everything old behind and going into a new world. The world I’m walking into is unknown, but therefore there are full of possibilities…
The Return to Anaheim/ Hidemi Woods
I got on the plane to Los Angeles and was taking breath in my seat when a flight attendant spilled orange juice all over my partner’s brand-new pants. They were his favorite pants that he would wear all the way to the end of this trip. His face looked both crying and laughing.
The plane approached Los Angeles and the familiar sight of brownish, scorched-looking land came into my view. Good and bad memories flooded into my mind. Right before the touchdown, I saw the signature structure of two arches and the control tower of LAX.
Totally unexpectedly and suddenly, a surprising feeling seized me. I felt I was home. I felt as if I had returned from a long trip of ten years to my hometown that I had given up coming back again. It was a warm feeling that I had never had before. My eyes were filled with tears. I had never understood those who talked about how wonderful homecoming was. I didn’t know what they were talking about though I was born in Kyoto and have lived away from it. I have never felt anything special every time I go back to Kyoto. I just feel indifferent or rather disgusting. Coming back to Los Angeles, I understood what homecoming is all about for the first time in my life. If I had been traveling alone, I would have cried out loud. I was stunned at the discovery of my hometown. The plane landed and a tear of joy was on my face as I finally came home…