Remember how I mentioned that Japan’s beach season is short, spanning the brief 1.5-month window between typhoon season and jellyfish season? Well this is false. It’s 建前. The real reason for beach season’s brevity is because Japanese people feel like they need to set rules and deadlines for everything. When September 1st rolls around, the calendar says that Fall has arrived and Summer has gone…so obviously nobody can go to the beach anymore, right? Nevermind that the weather is still beautiful, or that the water’s still swimming pool temperature. It’s Fall! How can you possibly go to the beach?
…Seriously. It reminds me of the first time I heard about the “Air Conditioning Rule” while studying at Ritsumeikan in 2005. At some point it was decided that there should be specific dates when the A/C is scheduled to switch on and off each year. Sounds logical enough. Except that in Japan, once a rule has been set, independent thought is no longer an option. Regardless of the weather, the A/C will turn on and off on the prescribed dates. Period. No matter what. I’ll never forget my first Summer here, watching everyone – including the teacher – sit at their desks literally dripping sweat and completely unable to concentrate. When I asked if we could turn on the A/C I was informed that the central switch wouldn’t be thrown until the following day. Only then would it be acceptable to learn productively and comfortably. Why? Because it’s the rules!
But anyways, I digress. What I really wanted to write about was my first experience “surfing” in Japan. Even though the date was already September 2nd, a full 48 hours after the end of the Beach Party season, I decided to visit 近江舞子 one last time. The sand was virtually deserted in comparison to two days earlier. But because the weather was still perfect, I decided to start looking for new options. Luckily, not even a week elapsed before a friend contacted me to suggest that I accompany her and some friends for a day of surfing in Wakayama. Wakayama Prefecture is generally known to contain the best “clean” seawater nearby Kyoto/Osaka/Kobe, and I’d been meaning to check it out ever since I lived here as a student.
The first thing thing I noticed upon exiting the 3-hour train to Isonoura Beach was that there were virtually no waves to be found…anywhere. Not so surprising, considering that this has been the case at each of the five or six beaches I’ve now visited in Japan. What did surprise me were the droves of surfers that packed the calm waters in front of me. What an amusing sight, to see dozens of wetsuit-clad locals struggling to ride tiny little 3-foot lumps for a total distance of about 20 yards. Is this what everyone in Japan means when they say they like to “surf?” I know Japan isn’t exactly known for its 10-footers, but I can pretty much guarantee that if this were California, these waves would be 99% unoccupied 😀
Considering my newfound understanding of the meaning of the word “surfing” in Japanese, I opted at the last minute not to rent a board, but instead to spend the day playing in the water on my friends’ bodyboards and inflatable dolphin. Then after things started to cool down I concluded the afternoon by kicking back on the sand with some cold beers, a Pita sandwich, and my new favorite book (The Game by Neil Strauss).
OK, so it wasn’t quite a day of surfing like I expected. But still a very pleasant Sunday afternoon, and a fine way to cross one more of Japan’s 47 prefectures off my “To Visit” list.