Without a second thought, I boarded a sea-bound train.

As was my wont, and my privilege, I had secured a ticket on the private passenger car. It was the middle of a weekday afternoon, and the car was empty. All the respectable people were either working or studying, and the retired ones were napping. I enjoyed the scenery passing by the window for longer than usual. Normally I just flopped into the deep bucket seat, pushed it into a full recline, and passed out. Those days I operated on a handful of hours of sleep per night, with irritatingly short naps interspersed throughout the day, so I’d fallen into the habit of crashing whenever I found myself on a train. That afternoon, though, I was in a ponderous mood. After all, there I was, taking a train for no real reason.

I managed to stay conscious long enough to see the stark concrete edifices of the city morph into lower and sparser suburban structures, and then the green gaps that came with authentic countryside. Then I slept and dreamed of being free.

The car attendant woke me with a polite shake of my shoulder. The quality of the air had changed, suffused with a salty tang. I realized that it had been years since I’d last smelled that briny odor, and I wondered how many of the children raised in the metropolis went their whole lives without experiencing any genuine nature. Not the animals caged in the zoos, nor the carefully planned and manicured public gardens, but honest to goodness old-growth forest that bristled from the sides of ancient mountains, or the vast sea that lapped on crumbling stretches of rocky shore.

I disembarked and could see the thin blue strip of the ocean from the edge of the platform. There were no fancy security gates at that terminal station, just a small kiosk where an old man snoozed over a worn wicker basket. I dropped my ticket under his nose and pushed my way through a tarnished turnstile.

It took longer to reach the sea than I thought it would. Still, the stroll down was pleasant and quiet, and the rising volume of the waves that beat on the shore provided the perfect backdrop to the day. When I reached the end of the road and the pavement dissolved into sand, and I was at last staring out over the vastness of the Pacific, I knew that I’d made a grave mistake in giving so many of my days to the city, and my heart broke a little. Yet something had reminded me of what I’d lost and pushed me with invisible but authoritative hands until I stood where I needed to stand.

I left Japan a year later. Looking back now, I think that visit to the beach was an awakening.

The concrete had been killing me.

2015.03.03 – 2023.09.27

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