Going Home

Castle Ruin and Cherry Blossoms

My hometown is called Tottori, a place I would have no reason to care about if I hadn’t grown up there. Tottori is the last destination in Japan to come up on any tourist’s wish list—a small coastal town of about 200,000, in a prefecture with a declining population, especially among young people.

Going home to a modest place like Tottori seemed like going the wrong direction for someone who wants to be a writer. A writer’s heart is supposed to be infused with desire for great adventures filled with danger and mysteries. Home is too familiar, too mundane; the place I can’t expect to discover a giant wolf, a pearl necklace of the Emperor Jimmu, or a secret Zen temple. I was actually somewhat ashamed by my lack of imagination when I chose to return to my hometown for my Outside Experience last year. Compared with all the other many possibilities, how would I derive any inspiration for my writing from such a lame destination?

A Local Restaurant

When I look back on my decision now, however, I feel as if I did not make an awful mistake. I do have to admit that when I returned to my hometown, I remembered how, as a pimple-faced teenager, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I found, however, that there were new discoveries and adventures for me in Tottori, very different than those I might have encountered at more exciting destinations or on the road. I’ve come to believe that going to places you have never been before is akin to reading a story the first time; going home is akin to re-reading the story. When you return to the story, you pay more attention to the text.

Going back to a familiar environment is a way to notice the details and be surprised by what you initially overlooked or thought unimportant. The very ordinariness of the place gently nudges you to hone your attention to the things around you, digging into deeper memories and discovering new perceptions. One day during my stay at my hometown, my old friend took me for a drive. We drove around the town, cruising along a narrow winding road through the mountains, and coming out to the open air by the seashore. During that excursion, I hardly spoke, just gazed at the familiar scenery through the window. When he pulled his car into the driveway at my parents’ house, he apologized for how so little had changed in Tottori. He had misinterpreted my silence as a sign of boredom. I felt sorry for my friend. He had no idea what an incredible adventure I had just been through in my imagination and memory.

Think about Emily Dickinson, who hardly stepped off of her homestead in her whole adult life. Her imaginative world was filled with insects, birds, and flowers—familiar faces in the backyard of her family home. Instead of dreaming about a faraway land, the poet gazed at and wrote about the drama unfolding in her microcosm.

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