Is a hometown the place where you were born, or where you were raised, or where you most felt ‘at home’? If it’s the latter of these three, then I would definitely say my hometown is the city of York, in Yorkshire, UK. In fact, when asked by students I frequently give York as my answer, thinking that perhaps they’ve heard of it over the place where I was born and raised, but of course they haven’t heard of it. New York, yes, (original) York, no. But I studied in York, we lived there in a lovely little house and I feel very attached to the place. If I were to return to the UK—which is very unlikely now—I’d want to live in York. I could write a lot about that place I’m sure…

But this answer is of course unsatisfactory as I wasn’t born there or raised there. No, that prize goes to another place, the town of Doncaster in South Yorkshire.

Originally a Roman fort called Danum, the the town’s long history has seen it become a key transportation hub, with major roads and train lines all passing through. Wikipedia has a decent history section on the town. Its church has even become a Minster since I’ve been in Japan.

But what of my relationship to Doncaster? Let’s just say it gone from strained to ‘OK’, but not particularly filled with love.

As a child I was bullied a lot, and of course those kids would hang around in the town centre. Even as I grew up I found the place pretty threatening until I found my own crowd. My fondest memories of the town centre are going to the nightclub (then called the Ritzy) for their midweek indie/rock nights. There was also a pub that played heavy metal in the basement on Saturdays and we’d go there to headbang to music. As for shopping, the centre has the Frenchgate Centre (when I was a child called the Arndale), which like the rest of the town struggled to keep shoppers as so many would do their shopping at nearby Sheffield Meadowhall Centre—Sheffield and Doncaster sort of merge with Doncaster always threatened by becoming simply a suburban centre of the larger Sheffield (there’s a rivalry between the two places, and annoyance among those in Doncaster that the local airport is bemusingly called Doncaster Sheffield Airport, even though Sheffield is miles and miles away).

So as a teenager I didn’t particularly like the place, and I made friends with people south of the town and in actual fact spent most of my teenage free time in the outskirts of Doncaster in Bawtry or in a rock pub in Retford, as smaller town. I grew up in a village outside of Doncaster town centre which was great (apart from those bullies of course). The village was rural, with farmland and woods to play in. Recently it has expanded in size with more housing estates built there, but there is still plenty of rural land around. That’s what I miss most, living in Tokyo where the only nature is found in parks. I miss the sounds and smells of the woods. The peace you can find walking in them. There’s now the nationally famous (and great) Yorkshire Wildlife Park in the village, but when I was growing up it was just a farm.

Doncaster surrounds
Where I grew up
Kichijoji, Tokyo
Where I live now

I’ll write more about my childhood in a future post, but definitely it was shaped partly by the rural nature of the village where I grew up, the fact that my friends as a teenager lived outside of the town, actually in a different county. But suffice to say, my heart lies not in Doncaster, but either in the local village, or in York. I want to love the town, it has some great aspects, but I struggle to do so. Sorry, Doncaster.

What is a ‘hometown’ to you?

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4 comments

  1. My definition of hometown has definitely shifted over time. I was born and raised in Las Vegas, but never felt as much of a connection to the city as much as I did the people. I then moved to Utah to finish university, my mom eventually did too, and my extended family also lives there… so I feel like Salt Lake City is more my hometown now. But I agree with you, nature is what I miss most about back home. There’s something so grounding about nature that gives a stronger sense of place than concrete jungles ever can.

  2. Hometown is where I live. Some trolls on Twitter had a go at me for saying my hometown was Tokyo about 5 years ago. But for me it’s a mindset thing, being committed to where I live is better than trying to make a split identity work.

    Connections to the past are powerful though. A few years ago I took my daughter to visit the area of Sydney where I grew up. Just hearing the birds in the park opposite my childhood home was a moving experience. Same for the feeling of sand underfoot going onto the beaches I used to surf at. It’s easy to think sand is just sand, but those Sydney beaches often have a soft, floury sand that feels different to walk on than a lot of other beaches.

    1. I think it’s probably healthy to think of hometown as where you live, like you say. Definitely there’s something in connections to the past, whether it’s nostalgia when you’re not there or being moved when you are (as you said). Interesting.

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