Three random incidents this week wove themselves together under the theme of “lost”.


In one of my Japanese lessons, the vocabulary list included the word for enigma, puzzle, or riddle: nazo 謎 「なぞ」。

When I looked up the kanji, it turned out to be rather arcane (that is, not in the standard school set). On the left-side, is the radical “word” (to say). On the right side is the sound element MEI (another pronunciation/reading for nazo). That element 迷 is also the kanji for lost.

  • 迷う mayou (also read as MEI) means lost in both its figurative and literal senses. To stray. To lose one’s way. To be at a loss, to be puzzled, be bewildered, and be perplexed.
  • 迷信 mei shin: confused belief (superstition)
  • 迷子 mai go: lost child
Still from the movie Tonari no Totoro showing a lost Mei.

And suddenly I remember the most famous little lost girl in contemporary Japanese fiction, Mei from the anime, Tonari no Totoro. Did Miyazaki expect his Japanese audience to get the pun? Is this one of those things lost in translation?


Netflix picked up on my lost child theme by suggesting the film “Lion”. I had never heard of it but I was drawn in by the opening sequence of gorgeous satellite shots of landscape which is purposeful, as Google Earth plays an important role in resolving the plot.

Still from the movie “Lion”

The movie is adapted from the book “Lion: A Long Way Home”, which tells the “true story” of a little Indian boy who is transported hundreds of miles away from home and family when he gets accidentally stuck on a train. He is too young to pronounce the name of his hometown or even his own name correctly and so he is lost. He ends up being adopted by an Australian couple and grows up in Tasmania. As a young man, he wants to find his birth mother and ends up using Google Earth to find the town he remembers as a child.


This sequence resonated with me as I, too, have used Google Earth to look up childhood homes to which I can never return. A few years ago, I found a school notebook from the fifth grade in which I had drawn a map of our neighborhood on Kadena AFB, Okinawa. I used Google Earth and found my house. I also confirmed my memory of being able to see the ocean from a small hilltop garden nearby. I never realized that the base was so small, or that the flight line was so near our house, or that my father took off in his F-100 and was immediately over the sea

Kadena Air Field, Okinawa (now Japan)
Our house on Patterson Avenue, Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa

I found the farmhouse, on the edge of Fort Hood, where we lived when my dad was the air liaison there from Bergstrom. At the time it was across from the heliport and the sound of scores of helicopters taking off in formation would rattle the windows. My brothers would play in the creek and my sister would ride her horse in the field between house and heliport.

Fort Hood, Texas

The first time I found it, field and creek were paved over. When I looked again a couple of months ago, our house and the whole neighborhood, had been wiped off the map.

Wiped off the map, literally.

Why did this bother me even though I had no intention of ever returning physically to these places? Did I feel that as long as they existed, so did the possibility that I could return. I don’t think so. Rather I think seeing them on Google Maps provided some proof of memory. I could point and say, “I was there.” The delight of finding our Okinawa house is balanced by the dismay in losing our Fort Hood house. To see it gone, feels like losing a memory. My memory is now rootless. Unattached. Unanchored. Lost.