They say you can never really go home. Well actually, “they” say a lot of things like “home is where you hang your hat,” whatever that means.
But like most absolutes, there are some exceptions. And this past week I, from time to time, occasionally did find myself back home.
Now you might be thinking, “But Mark, you are from Seattle, isn’t that were you live?” Or you might be thinking, “What the f#%k is he going on about now?”
Well bare with me and I’ll tell you how I made it, if only for a brief moment, back to a time and a place that for me is closer to home than any other.
Since I left my parent’s house at the age of 18, and then again for good at 19, the longest I’ve ever lived in one place, or even one city is the five years that my wife, our three boys and I lived in Yokohama, just five minutes away from Japan’s oldest, most historically important sports club, the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club, aka “the YCAC,” aka “The Club.”
Now the YCAC plays a central part in this recent journey back, but there are some other important supporting actors that deserve mentioning. Our children, for varying times, all attended Japanese local schools located just a short walk from our house in Yamate. Our older two also attended St. Maur International School for a few years. And, our younger two (I know it’s kind of confusing – it is for me too!) also played for YSCC the local soccer academy.
Going to local schools, whether Japanese or International, playing on local soccer teams, and almost always going everywhere in the neighborhood on foot or by bike pretty much embedded our boys into the local community and connected my wife and I with the local parents and ex-pat families.
Add on to the above community connections the super accelerant of being a member of YCAC, playing on a couple teams, participating in various individual sports, and spending way too much time imbibing post match libations with my teammates and fellow club members, and you have the perfect combination of community glue and the makings for a place called home.
There’s a certain comfort, warmth, and sense of connectedness that comes with being a member of a surrounding community. There’s also the occasional friction from an argument, misunderstanding, or even embarrassment (mostly related to all those libations!). But being part of a community comes with a degree of flexibility and forgiveness as members tend to tolerate each other’s faults and missteps for the benefit and integrity of the whole.
A little over a year ago we left our home in Yokohama to move back to our house in Washington State. It was a good move done for all the right reasons, and like many life changes it has been a catalyst for all of our continued growth. There are times though when we wax nostalgic about our life in Yokohama and semi-seriously plot our return.
Recently I got to make a test run on that return. The YCAC was celebrating its’ 150th anniversary and as part of the festivities a “Masters” seven-a-side soccer tournament was planned. Battle lines were drawn, teams were formed, and when the dust settled I managed to join a team, and amazingly convince the missis to let me head back to Yokohama for the big event.
To be honest, I was a wee bit worried that things would be different, that I’d feel out of place, that “home” now only existed in a memory.
Upon arrival at Narita and spending the first two nights in Tokyo I did feel a sense of familiarity and comfort. But it wasn’t until getting off the train at Ishikawacho Station and walking the narrow alleys of Motomachi near our old neighborhood in Yokohama did I get a acute sense of being back. Finally, when I sat down at our favorite noodle restaurant and was served my regular order of spicy ramen with a big bottle of beer, it all jelled. I was back, and for that moment it seemed that nothing had changed, I was home both in time and place.
The Japanese, like most peoples, have word for pretty much everything. One of the words that you will hear a lot, especially when you return to Japan, is “natsukashii.” It can roughly be translated as a combination of nostalgia and a feeling of missing something. It’s often used when a sight, sound, or scene reminds you of a warm fond memory.
Over the next two days, walking around the club, playing in the tournament, talking with my friends, and drinking those post match and anniversary beers, I experienced “natsukashii” and the feeling of being home many more times. And, at the risk of having of having my manhood questioned by some of my more obnoxious teammates (you know who you are!), I have to admit that there were a few times when I almost shed a tear. In short there was a lot of nostalgia, and warm fond memories. In even shorter, it was good to be home.
Victories and losses of epic battles fought,
Post match beers and a bunch of silly whatnot.
Sports day celebrations,
Always, always, always, too many libations.
Weddings, births, and funerals,
The sisters and their songs,
Views of Mount Fuji,
A can-made bong.
A green grass oasis where bare feet trod,
The knowing warmth of a fellow member’s nod.
It mixed all together in a confusing nostalgic foam,
But then it took shape in a place called home.
Ps. For those who know me and my ragged white hat, I left/lost/hung it in Yokohama. You know what that means….