Homecoming: An afternoon in Zushi

The sun lays down inside the ocean
I'm right where I belong
Feel the air, the salts on my skin
The future's coming on
And after living through these wild years
And coming out alive
I just want to lay my head here
And stop running for a while

-- “Southern Air”, Yellowcard

 

Having changed addresses at least a dozen times and counting, I’ve been something of a rolling stone my whole life. Some of those places I’ve revisited over the years, others I never have. The latter list grew shorter a fortnight ago when, on a sunny midsummer afternoon, I made my first visit to Zushi (逗子) in over thirty years.


Zushi, the first of many places I would call home, is a coastal town situated south of Yokohama. Home to verdant hills and sandy beaches, it offers a refreshing change of scenery from its neighboring cities and maintains a laid-back, small-town feel. In the summertime, locals and visitors alike flock to its crescent-shaped coast, a beach bum’s paradise lined cheek by jowl during those months with umi-no-ie (beach vendors) and marine sports shops. Ephemeral as it may be, Zushi’s beach scene draws a sizeable crowd each summer, and has earned the town a reputation as an oceanside resort.

 

My prolonged absence from the “249” was due more to circumstance than choice. Having left at age two, I had no memories or connections in the area, and I simply had never gone south of Kamakura for all these years. It was through a series of recent developments in my life that I found myself heading to my erstwhile hometown on the Yokosuka Line on this warm July afternoon. I didn’t want to make too big a deal out of my day trip, but my visit was a long time coming, and I must admit that once the train doors closed at Kamakura Station, the stop before Zushi Station, my heart skipped a beat in anticipation of my first homecoming in over three decades. But, I quickly collected myself, and a few minutes later, at 2:19 p.m. on July 21, 2018, I hopped off the cream-and-blue-banded train and the streak was finally over.

 

The summer sun shone as brightly in Zushi as it had in my current home of Yokohama, but thanks to the ocean breeze, the air felt cooler as I hoofed it from the station toward the beach. It also didn’t take long for me to notice that just about everyone around me was either going to or coming back from the beach—a sight unimaginable in Yokohama or even just a train stop earlier. Once I crossed the underpass beneath Highway 134, I found myself in the middle of the beach proper, replete with bronzed sunbathers and well-toned surfers living it up in bikinis or sans shirt as the rhythmical sound of incoming waves filled the fresh ocean air. I should have known what to expect, but the lively vibe was so stimulating to the senses and such a drastic change from my everyday life that my initial reaction was: What am I doing here? I had had my share of fun in the sun during my college years in Southern California, mind you, but I was now a thirty-something homebody in street clothes and pale skin. Surrounded by the bustle on the beach, it felt like I had accidentally walked onto the set of a rap music video shoot in Miami Beach. The initial shock gradually subsided, however, and I proceeded to enjoy a stroll along the coast, at the southern end of which I climbed up onto the breakwater (don’t try this, kids) and trod my way to its outer edge, which would mark the terminus of my trip.

 

The concept of “home” can be difficult to define, especially when you’ve called so many different places one. But if it’s measured by how close a place feels to your heart, then Zushi still is home to me to a small, but tangible, degree. I may not know its streets or have any childhood memories there, but as I made my way back to the station I felt a level of connection to the town, because of the fact that I had once called it home. My homecoming wasn’t exactly Odysseus coming home to Ithaca, but at the very least Zushi did not feel like just another beach town to me, for that reason. Zushi may be the last entry in an alphabetical list of Japanese place names, but for me it will always be my first home.