I was born in a town that no longer exists. The only thing left of it is an old train station that bears its name. Namioka was the place. A small town in Aomori prefecture, Japan. They say it was founded in 1889 during the Meiji Restoration and was elevated to a town in 1940. In 2006, they controversially merged with the growing city of Aomori and lost its independent municipality. So the internet tells me.
I never lived there, but visited often. It was where my maternal grandparents lived for a time. I have vague but intense recollections of the place.
There was a store down the road. It was full of sweets. My brother and I loved visiting it. They sold small yellow rectangular boxes filled with individually wrapped caramel. We would scoff it down when mum bought it for us.
There were kind friends there. A girl with a forgotten name and a face I can’t quite remember. But I can almost hear her voice echo down the road.
“Junko Chan! Asobi masho!” she would cry and we’d play the afternoon away.
The next time I saw her we couldn’t understand each other. I had grown up. Too much time had passed between visits and I lost my ability to speak her language. She too had grown. She was still kind when she saw us. But I was shy.
I have photos of old memories. Of dressing up in a kimono and playing with sparklers. Of car trips to a place where the settled snow was tall as grown ups. None of these I remember.
I remember the doors slid sideways in my grandparents’ house. I remember the first time the walls and floor shook from a small earthquake. Everybody carried on like it was normal. I remember a small playground just over the backyard wall. I would peer over it and wish I could be free.
My uncle once told me I looked like a Japanese doll when I was little. The memory came up again when I was at a nursing home recently and one of the residents asked me where I was born.
“I am ethnically Korean, but I was born in Japan,” I answered as best as I could.
“Now that you tell me that, you look Japanese,” she responded.
I smile. I have no idea what it means to look Japanese. I don’t feel Japanese. But it was once the place of my birth. Something that formed part of my identity.
It was an odd feeling when I realised my first hometown was now only alive in my memories. I felt a little at a loss when I read about it. Like a part of me suddenly fell away.
There’s nothing much I can do to reclaim that part of who I am. The country has moved on and the internet tells me Namioka no longer exists.
via the Daily Prompt: Identity