Leaving Home

This article was written for a newsletter in Aizu Wakamatsu, Fukushima, Japan. The series is called “Leaving Home” (Furusato o hanare).

I was born in Dunnville, Ontario on the north shore of Lake Erie. When I was quite young, my family moved to Toronto. When I was six, we moved to Whitby, a town of 40,000 people (now a lot more) on the north shore of Lake Ontario. I went to elementary school, junior high school, and high school in Whitby. After I graduated from high school, I went to work in England for a year. When I returned to Canada, I went straight into Queen’s University in Kingston, a two-hour drive from where my parents lived. When I was in my second year of university, my parents moved from Whitby to a small island on a small lake north of the Great Lakes called Scugog Island. Upon graduating from university, I accepted a job on the JET programme as an ALT in Tajima-machi. I stayed in Tajima for two years and then found my present job, as a Co-ordinator for International Relations at the International Association in Aizu Wakamatsu.

So, this is my fourth year in Japan and ever since I arrived in 1995, Japanese people have asked me, “How does this place (Tajima/Wakamatsu) compare with your ‘furusato’ (hometown)?” I always have trouble answering that question, because as you can see, I don’t really have a furusato.

What makes a town a “furusato”? Is it a fact, like your place of birth? In that case, my “furusato” is Dunnville. But I was so young when I moved away from there that I can hardly remember it. It’s just a town like any other town. So, is a furusato about length of residence? If so, then my furusato is Whitby. But even Whitby is becoming dim in my memory, since I haven’t lived there since 1990, and I haven’t even visited it in more than 3 years. Or is it defined by where your parents live – even if your parents live on a strange little island that you have only been to two or three times? Or is it something else?

If I understand it correctly, a furusato is not about facts or measurements or decisions made by your parents. It’s about comfort. It’s the place where you feel the most “at home”. It’s the place where you can walk around and feel like you belong, like there’s a place for you in the town, and that place will always be there for you, no matter how far you may roam.

If we think of furusato that way, then there is one place that stands out above the others for me. You may be surprised, but I would choose Tajima above all the rest! I am pretty fond of Tajima, and since that was where I first heard about furusato, I think of it as my first real hometown. When I am there, I can get that “at home” feeling – where the people at the bank and the post office know me and the guy at the gas station stops and talks to me every morning on my way to work.
So even though we may be very far away from what others would call our furusato, some of us are lucky enough to find another place to call home. So rather than “furusato o hanare” (leaving home), in my case I think a good title would be furusato no hakken (discovering home)!