Summer is a wonderful season in Japan. It’s finally warm enough to peel off down parkas and ski gloves, it’s nice to relax in the park drinking beer, and the girls all wear short skirts. Actually, they wear those in winter too. What a country, seriously. Probably sucks to be a girl here though, having to walk by the park all winter long being ogled by some white guy in a parka drinking beer with ski gloves. If anybody asked, I figured I’d just say I was a member of the ski patrol, although sadly no one ever did.
Anyway, when summer comes, I starting thinking beach. Sand. Waves. Sea shells. Girls in even less clothing. You pretty much can’t go wrong, and it all starts with proper preparation. Now I know what you’re thinking: Should I pack some sandwiches and beer? How about a big tent and a giant umbrella? Perhaps a watermelon so I can split it like they do in Japanese movies? The answer is No, you should not, because there’s only four things you really need before going to the beach in Japan.
A Japanese Beach Checklist
Preparation actually begins months earlier, during which time you will need to secure the following four items:
1. A stylish and well-fitting bathing suit,
2. A small stack of folding cash,
3. One giant can of Nair, and
4. A gastric bypass operation
Guess I should have told you this back in November. Yeah, sorry about that. Well, print this and keep it for 2014. Japanese Rule of 7: Thinking proactively since 2013.
The thing to know about the beach in Japan is that it’s basically a social experiment in self-selection. That’s a nice way of saying that fat people don’t go there. Nor do old people, or hairy people. I realized this, oh, about one second after I arrived. So maybe I felt a little out of place. Plus, for some reason, no one was wearing sunglasses, other than me.
“We don’t have to,” said this girl named Naoko, “because our eyes are strong.”
“My eyes are strong too,” I said. I don’t know why I say stupid stuff like this. It just comes out.
“But our eyes are stronger,” she said. That is so her.
Strong eyes, the hell, nobody gets the better of Ken Seeroi. I took off the sunglasses. That is so me. I had to admit, though, it was pretty freaking hard to see.
The Long Train to the Beach
But let’s back up a minute and talk about getting to the beach, because one key feature of “beach” is that it’s not “city.” Otherwise it would be called something else entirely. Like maybe “harbor” or “seaport.” What am I, a sailor? Please. Anyway, what I mean is it’s really freaking far away, so you’ll need to ride the train with that girl named Naoko for about an hour, and she’ll insist upon bringing sandwiches and beer, shelter and camping supplies better suited to Mount Everest, plus a watermelon. Know how hard it is to carry a watermelon on the train? Of course you don’t. That’s because no sane person ever dreamed of bringing a giant piece of fruit to a place all filled with sand.
And once you finally arrive at the train station for the beach, you’re still going to have to walk about two kilometers to get to the ocean. That’s like five miles. And who’s going to lug the cooler, tents, ice axes, and watermelon? Not Naoko, that’s for sure. There’s only one thing a Japanese girl can do when faced with a walk to the beach. She will feel compelled to say the word atsui. That means “hot,” as in “It’s so hot,” and “Why’s it so hot?” and “My head feels like it’s about to explode.” Japanese words are very versatile like that. Try saying it. Atsui. Now with about 70 percent more whine in your voice. Atsuuuiii. That’s better. Now walk ten feet and say it again. Atsuuuiii. Now make the face that says Ken, I’m dying of heatstroke and in need of medical attention, are we there yet? Atsuuuiii. Continue in this manner, because interestingly, there’s no limit to the number of times one can say the exact same word over and over.
Now, I’d like to suggest that you do not point out to Naoko that the reason one goes to the beach is precisely because the weather is sunny. Do not point out what a nice day it is for a stroll. Nor should you mention that you are in effect her personal sherpa. Such reasoning will only result in Naoko becoming sullen, walking even slower and turning your trip to the beach into a hellish death march. Trust me. I do these things so you don’t have to.
Reaching the Beach
When we finally did arrive at the water’s edge at least my arms were all pumped up from carrying the hundreds of pounds of gear, so I felt good enough to take off my shirt. But once I did I suddenly realized the likelihood of being shot with a tranquilizer dart and dragged off to Ueno Zoo.
A guy about 14 years old walked by, looked at me, and in Japanese said, “Chest hair.”
I spun around and yelled after him, “Yeah, well, wait till you see deez nuts.”
It wasn’t a great reply, but at least it was quick. That’s something.
About that time I noticed that everyone—guys, girls, the whole freaking lot of them—was tanned, skinny, and seemed to be about fourteen. I mean, from what I could tell, since all I could see were ghostly silhouettes without any sunglasses. But I figured maybe all the squinting would make my eyes look more Japanese, which would be good. At any rate, I put my shirt back on, because it was kind of chilly, with the sea breeze and all.
The Japanese beach is actually, well, it’s not that great. The water’s gray and the sand is littered with random bits of plastic and suspicious-looking styrofoam. Plus, there’s a shit-ton of people. That’s a technical term. Now, I know you’re going to say, Yeah sure Ken, but I bet you’d like it just fine if you weren’t wearing a fur suit and had gone on a diet back in November like I told you to. To which I can only reply, Jeez, why must you say such hurtful things, Naoko? I mean, it’s bad enough I’ve gone sun-blind already. Next time remind me to bring my man-parasol.
Japanese Beach Shacks
But the good news is that the Japanese in their wisdom have improved upon nature with their amazing technology, and nailed together giant plywood shacks on the sand that overlook the ocean. These beach barns offer all manner of food, beer, and shelter, completely obviating the need to have carried a damn thing. This is another matter you should not bring up with Naoko, despite the fact that she freaking knew it because she came to the exact same beach last year. Some things you just have to let go.
The Ocean, so Much Better from Afar
Once safely out of the blinding sun, I realized we’d found the best feature of the beach, in that our shack was essentially a giant, tatami-floored izakaya facing the ocean. I finally understood what people mean when they talk about the serenity of the sea. We got our own 3-inch tall table and ordered cold beers and something infinitely more appealing than the loaf of soggy tuna-fish sandwiches I’d packed. Who would have thought of serving steaming hot curry at the beach? Those wacky Japanese folks, that’s who, and it was freaking perfect after all that schlepping of the gear. The only remaining problem was the accursed watermelon, which I had no intention of shlepping all the way back home.
“Have some watermelon?” I asked gently.
“I can’t,” said Naoko.
“It’ll help you feel less atsui . . .
“No, I’m too full,” she said, but with 70 percent more whiny voice.
“Well, why’d you eat so much freaking curry?
“Because it was delicious.”
It’s kind of hard to argue with that logic, especially since it actually was and all. Still, it left me with the dilemma. I was determined to dispatch the damned round thing to Fruit Hell once and for all. I grabbed a knife. We’d actually brought an 8-inch chef’s knife to the beach, just to kill the watermelon, and I had every intention of using it.
I dragged the watermelon kicking and screaming over the sand, threw it down upon a blue plastic sheet, lifted the knife above my head, and brought it down with a tremendous Whack! Seeds and red fruit went everywhere as it cleaved cleanly down the middle, and watermelon juice poured over the blue sheet. I was actually kind of impressed at how good a job I did. Walk softly and carry a giant knife, that’s my new motto. Actually, if you’ve got the knife, I guess you can walk however you like. But that’s more of an American motto, I think.
Anyway, we spent the rest of the day in the shack, with occasional forays down to the dark water just to confirm that we still weren’t drunk enough to swim in it. So we drank a few more beers, took naps, ate a couple of soggy sandwiches, and powered down as much watermelon as possible. Then when the sun started to go down, grabbed a taxi back to the station, because that’s the only intelligent way to get to and from the ocean.
Yes, the beach is pretty awesome, but like all things in Japan, it pays to be plan ahead. Preparation, as Alexander Graham Bell said, is the key to success. Although, well, not to slam the guy who invented the iPhone or anything, but that dude might have benefited from a bit of electrolysis himself. Just sayin’. I mean, he practically makes me look like a Japanese guy. And that, as Naoko will gladly tell you, isn’t easy to do.