Namioka, Japan

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 little 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

15 thoughts on “Namioka, Japan

  1. I think that what happened to Namioka will continue to happen to more small towns in Japan as their population dies out. I never thought of it from a perspective like yours as someone born in a small town like that. Thank you for the insight.

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    1. Hello 🙂 I’m sure it happens all over the world. Things ebb and flow. Nothing remains the same. It just would have been nice to visit one day.

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  2. Lovely post Aggie Soon…..nice to read about some parts of your life in Japan, a country which is always on the bucket list of countries I wish to visit in this lifetime at least once. Being from India, travel is in our system, as India is a vast country with so much to see and visit. And Japan is always a travellers’ paradise…..:)

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  3. Beautiful, evocative piece that is exquisitely written. I was born far from where I grew up and live and have many memories of my early years there. I am lucky I can still go and visit and see some of the original sights that have survived.Thank you for sharing.

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    1. It’s my pleasure. Thank you so much for your encouragement. I would love to head back one day. At least to see the train station that bears the name of the place.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful post.
    I feel like I can relate to a certain extent.
    I was born in Dominican Republic but moved to the states at a young age. So, I’m always trying to think back to my younger days. I have a few prominent memories but every time I go back to visit – sometimes, it feels like I’m in a foreign country. I think the fact that can you can still remember Namioka despite it not being there is beautiful sign of it’s past existence especially within your childhood.
    Love your writing.

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  5. Thank you for sharing this really wonderful and heart warming post. My mother is Italian, like you I have memories of visiting my grand parents, they spoke no English, but I have fond memories of being with them. It is a shame that memories fade, but as you said, “It is still a part of WHO we are!” You have a wonderful Blog!

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