Postcard from Japan: Summer spent on a distant shore

There may not be wampum here, but there are seashell-encrusted starfish. –Photos: Naomi Pallas

Naomi Pallas attended high school on Martha’s Vineyard, and has written for The MV Times for several summers. She recently finished a research program at Stanford University’s Inter-University Center in Yokohama after graduating with a B.A. from NYU in 2015. She will be sending postcards from Japan throughout the summer.

Dearest Island,

How is everyone doing? According to my parents, Martha’s Vineyard is already filling up for the season, but I hope you’re all enjoying the last couple of weeks of quiet evenings and empty parking spots before summer really kicks in.

I’ve been meaning to write for a long time — since I arrived in Japan last September, really. I have a whole slew of excuses for not having done so until now: The research program I’ve been at was so intense that I didn’t have time; I’m forgetting English words, etc. But now it’s been almost a year, and as is always the case when I’m away from home in the summertime, the Island is constantly on my mind.

It started (“it” being the particular homesickness that plagues former Island kids between June and September) last week in Kamakura, a little beachside town in the northeast. The waves were tall and cool and sent sea spray across surfers and sunbathers as we, a large group of pale academics, paraded across the shore in search of an empty space.

I was there with my classmates the day after our graduation from Stanford’s Inter-University Center in Yokohama, where we had spent the year studying Japanese and researching topics from Buddhism in the Kamakura period to Abenomics. Most students at the program were simultaneously pursuing M.A.s or Ph.D.s, or were looking to switch careers. Having entered as a recent college graduate, I was one of the younger and less experienced, and I stuck to my undergrad thesis topic of nature’s role in the expression of the self in Japanese literature. (Aren’t you glad I haven’t been writing with updates this whole time?) The program was one of the most challenging things I’ve done academically, as well as one of the most rewarding. The dedication of the professors and the community at the center made not seeing the sun in months well worth it.

Once we found a spot on the sand, half of us ran to the ocean while the rest popped open beer cans and played music on the beach. The Pacific Ocean at Kamakura feels and tastes different from the New England Atlantic — the sand is less grainy, the salt less assertive, and the temperature a whole lot warmer. But the water still clings to your skin the same soft way after it dries, and while everyone else attended a reception at a local shrine that night, I wandered through the streets of the town feeling warm and salty and very much at home. The crickets were even audible, since cicada season doesn’t start for another month.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be applying for jobs here and in the U.S., teaching a little English on the side, attending some lectures and going on adventures around the country. As much as I’ll miss my spot upstairs at the Times, reading books on my grandma’s porch, outdoor films, and Art Cliff truck dinners, Japanese summer is something everyone should experience once — stay tuned to hear about trips to Osaka and Tokyo, a hike up Mount Fuji, and possibly a farming experience on Kyushu. And though I don’t know exactly where I’ll be when the summer ends, for tonight I’m sitting on my futon with the windows open wide, listening to Bob Dylan, and dreaming of a distant, seaside June.



P.S. Anyone who has questions about life in Japan for me to answer in postcards to come, or who is considering studying abroad in Japan (or who just wants to talk Heian-period poetry or post-Meiji Restoration Soseki), please email me at