I just began reading the book that every student has to read as an academic assignment, probably in middle school or high school, Natsume Soseki’s classic Kokoro. Like American students who hates Kate Chopin’s The Awakening because they are forced to read it for school, not to enjoy it, everyone in Japan seems to either think it boring, or simply sad.
(My copy of Kokoro‘s uninteresting cover)
While I haven’t even gone a third through the book yet, I can already see the sadness in the story. However, I won’t bore you with the depressing details here. What caught my attention is the location of the narrator-protagonist and his beloved nameless “Sensei.”
He meets Sensei only by chance, randomly through curiosity. The narrator was swimming alone at a beach in Kamakura, about 60km/40miles south of Tokyo when he saw a peculiarity – a gaijin that wore only a swim trunk, a rarity back then, when everyone, especially women, showed very little skin. Sensei was accompanying the gaijin and the narrator was attracted (not romantically) to Sensei for a reason he couldn’t understand himself for a long time.
The beach only appears in the first few pages, but it made an indelible impression on me. Soseki’s simple and evocative writing and the fact that I was there made a clear picture of the beach from the narrator’s perspective. Not only that, Kokoro was written in 1914, and after an hundred years, it is still there, generally the same, today – full of beachgoers who is there to enjoy the sea and the sun.
The beach is called Yuigahama （由比ヶ浜）, and there is a small station of the same name, 2 short stops from the Kamakura terminus on the old Enoden train line that goes to Enoshima, a popular spot for couples. Right next to Yuigahama is the Hase neighborhood, where the old temple with a wooden statue of Kannon has a beautiful view of the city.
(Enoden train and Enoshima in the background)
Yuigahama is a fairly long swath of beach on the Sagami Bay, with some bathhouses and restaurants dotting the beachfront. Sunbathers and surfers crowd the beach in the summer. I’ve been there a few times, but Kokoro has piqued my interest to go there again and enjoy the beach with lassitude like the protagonist did, while ruminating on the long history of the area, and perhaps happen upon a ‘Sensei.’