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Tinged with Melancholy: Part 2

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As a multicultural citizen of the world, you’ve probably left your hometown behind. You may miss it occasionally, but what do you miss?

The way the hills and valleys came together, a river running through it? The scent of honeysuckle in summers, and the crickets that never stopped chirping? The brilliant autumn displays, and the heavy snows in winter?

Do you miss the kind of people from that area? Your family in particular? The food you can’t find anywhere else? Your house and the room that was yours and yours alone? The familiarity of everything in that house—the layout, the way the place smelled, the possessions that acquired so much meaning along the way?

Or … maybe it wasn’t so great. Maybe you even hated it, feeling choked by the narrowness of options and of mindsets. Perhaps you were bored out of your mind, traveling the same roads again and again. If so, why do you miss it? If you return for visits, does that satisfy the yearning? Or does the trip home confuse you, making you wonder why you were pining for such a hellhole?!

Hometown nostalgia can be baffling. If you chose to leave your hometown and if you’ve created a much better life for yourself in the present, why does the old place still have such a hold over you? What do you still want from this place of the past, and can you have it in any way?

“All changes are more or less tinged with melancholy, for what we are leaving behind is part of ourselves.”
—Amelia Barr, novelist

“Leaving home in a sense involves a kind of second birth in which we give birth to ourselves.”
—Robert Neelly Bellah, sociologist

“I’d rather be homesick than home.”
—Leo Vroman, biologist and poet

Japanese offers an amazing number of words for “homesickness.” The most common term is simply ホームシック (hōmushikku: homesick). But as far as kanji options go, here’s a good one:

故郷を (kokyō o shitau: to pine for home)
old + hometown + to yearn for

Reading this as furusato o shitau would be acceptable, as we found out last week.

Thinking about how old the term 故郷を慕う may be, I realize how different homesickness was, way back when. After all, leaving home was no small feat in the days when people had no Shinkansen, no steam trains, and no Toyotas. Nor did anyone have telephones, email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other mechanisms that help us stay in touch. People left villages to earn a living in the big city, to marry into a different village, to fight in wars. Some people must have known they would not likely return.

One can imagine that the pain and uncertainty of leaving a hometown seeped into the following term, which is quite old and doesn’t have a concise equivalent in English:

離郷 (rikyō: departure from one’s hometown)
to separate from + hometown

The first kanji, (RI, hana(reru): to separate from), also shows up in words such as 離婚 (rikon: divorce), 離反 (rihan: estrangement), 離散 (risan (suru): to scatter, disperse, be broken up), 離村 (rison: deserting one’s village), and even 離農 (rinō: giving up farming), which again has no English equivalent. All these words are soaked in tears. There’s a sense of ripping apart a fabric that was once whole, of ripping people apart forever.

Breakdowns of These Compounds …

After the departure comes the homesickness. Here are a few more ways to refer to that anguish:

郷愁 (kyōshū: nostalgia; homesickness)
hometown + melancholy


望郷 (bōkyō: homesickness; nostalgia)
to look afar + hometown

Wow, Halpern’s definition of the first kanji has thrown me for a loop! More on that at the link.


懐郷 (kaikyō: nostalgia; homesickness)     to long for + hometown

You may know the first kanji in its kun-yomi form, natsu(kashii), which people often use when describing what they miss. But did you know that the primary meaning listed in Halpern is “bosom”?! In Breen, it’s “pocket”! As Henshall explains at the link, all these meanings fit together in a logical way.

On the Origin of

This compound has a spinoff word that emphasizes the “sickness” in “homesickness”:

懐郷病 (kaikyōbyō: homesickness)
to long for + hometown + illness

Why does the concept of “sickness” factor into this word in both Japanese and English? Did medical authorities ever view nostalgia for one’s hometown as a diagnosable malady?

If homesickness ails you, then returning home should be a happy, restorative experience. Here’s a term for returning home:

帰郷 (kikyō: homecoming; a return to one’s home)
to return + hometown

But if you look at sample sentences containing this word, you’ll see that homecomings aren’t always filled with joy!

Sample Sentences with 帰郷

Time for your Verbal Logic Quiz!

Verbal Logic Quiz …

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