A Different Kind of Homeless
For some years now, the newspapers have regularly
carried stories about growing numbers of 'homeless' people, at first
mostly datelined from America and Europe, but more recently from here
in Japan as well. At the moment I don't want to get into whether this
problem is a 'personal' one, caused by individual irresponsibility,
or evidence of a wider, more general, social malaise. It's a
different kind of 'homelessness' that's been concerning me recently -
my own. Now should any of those people actually living out on the
street happen to read this, they may perhaps take offense at use of
the word 'homeless' by a person such as myself, who has a quite
comfortable apartment, fully stocked with a big pile of warm futons.
But the word 'home' does have a couple of meanings ... not only that
building where we happen to be 'parking' our bodies every night ...
but also that place where we consider our roots to be.
With many people, these two concepts may be rolled
together into one particular location, but for many others, they are
quite separate. I suppose in times gone by, when people were much
less mobile than now, it was the norm to be living either at, or at
least near, ones ancestral home, but patterns of life in the last
half of the 20th century are obviously different. It is not merely
that I and my compatriot baby-boomers are very mobile people, but
that our parents were also. My own experience is, I think, not
atypical: as I was growing up, we moved house frequently, never
staying long enough in any given place to put down many roots. Even
after we children left home, my parents continued this pattern, even
up to last year, when they sold yet another house, and moved into
rented accommodation. So for myself, my brother, and my sister, there
is no place on this earth that could possibly represent 'home', other
than our current residences. But in my mind at least (and I suspect
theirs too), my present address just is not the kind of place that I
could call 'home' in that deeper sense. It is a rented concrete
building on a noisy main road, surrounded by automobile parking lots.
"Home?" No way. It's just a roof to keep the rain off.
When I first moved here, such thoughts as this
didn't bother me. I guess I just assumed that I'd be 'moving on'
fairly soon anyway, and this place would just be another in a long
sequence of short-term accommodations. But things didn't work out
quite that way. I became settled into a steady line of work (my
woodblock printmaking), my kids became settled in school, and we all
developed quite an affection for our local community. (Despite my
disparaging remarks about our building, Hamura City is a very
liveable place.) So one year became two ... and then three ... and
now I find that more than eight years have gone by ... in temporary
accommodation. It is an acceptable home, but it is not a 'home', and
I am missing that latter feeling ...
This lack was exacerbated last year with the
breakup of the relationship with my wife, and her departure from our
home. Her family, in complete contrast to mine, had been for
generations very much rooted in one place. During the course of our
fourteen years together, we spent a lot of time visiting her old
'home', and spent many long happy summers there. Over the years,
without my even realizing it, I gradually developed quite an
affection for the place. I was 'adopting' a 'home'.
The shock and pain of our separation was thus
multiplied by these feelings. I hadn't just lost a long-time partner,
I had lost a home. During the year since our divorce, I have become
pretty much reconciled to life as a single man again (the process has
been mitigated a lot by the companionship of my two daughters), but I
have to admit that I am far from settled with respect to my feelings
about a home. I miss that place very much.
So more and more, my thoughts return to this
question, and it seems to me that the answer is on the face of it,
quite simple - find a place I like, move there, and then spend years
settling in and developing a feeling that it is my 'home'. In other
words, build one for myself, rather than searching for a non-existent
'family home'. Make that move my last move. I am still only 42, and
have many years left in which I could put down quite extensive roots.
This is all very easy to say, but somewhat more difficult to put into
practice. The problem is simply stated. Where?
I don't mean "Japan or Canada?" That was settled
in my mind some time ago. Canada exerts no pull on me at all, and I
think I will be quite content to live out my life in this country.
But where then, in Japan? On the surface, my present town of Hamura
seems like a good choice, with good neighbours, excellent community
facilities, good access to basic necessities, and of course after
eight years here, the three of us are well on the way to developing
strong connections with this place. But counterbalancing all these
'pluses', is one huge 'minus'. Not if I live to be a hundred years
old will I ever be able to afford to buy a piece of land here
adequate for building a comfortable house. I don't want a palace, but
I do want somewhat more space than these tiny houses and apartments
provide. I would like to be able to walk through my house without
banging into things all the time. The cost though, is so
astronomical, that urban Tokyo is just not a practical option.
What then of the other obvious choice, a place out
in the countryside? In this age of rural depopulation, certainly
there are no shortage of potential places in every corner of Japan.
That's true, and if it were only up to me, this is the route I would
probably choose. But of course, it is not only up to me. I must also
think about those two little girls who will be in my care for yet
another ten years or so. How would they fare in such an environment?
In this case also, I have mixed feelings. (Why is it that nothing is
black and white anymore ... like everything was back when I was 20?)
Although my general impressions of rural life are positive - living
at a slower pace, surrounded by greenery, in a more 'natural'
environment, there are negatives. That ongoing rural depopulation has
taken a severe toll on the level of amenities available to country
dwellers, and access to shopping, medical facilities, and of course
schools, becomes quite a big problem for a family such as
Given all these conflicting viewpoints on the
matter, it's just as well that my financial resources are still far
short of a level that would permit any decisive action on this. And
as the girls seem very happy just where they are, with plenty of
friends, activities, and community entanglements, it would not be
fair to pull them away, just to cater to a whim of mine. Whether or
not our current residence feels like 'home' to me, I have to admit
that it almost certainly is 'home' to them. Indeed, they know no
So I guess I'll simply bide my time. I'll keep my
eyes open for information on suitable locations, and in the meantime
will try and save up as much as I can, in order to be ready when the
time finally arrives. It should be an interesting process - instead
of looking back to an old ancestral family home, I'll look forward to
building a new one for myself. A 'made-to-order' solution for my own