Celebrating the summer solstice last week, or 夏至 (Geshi) means that we have finally made it to what I consider to be the best time of year, the summer!
Japanese summers truly are great. Think Matsuris (festivals), yukatas (summer kimonos), soumen (cold noodles) and macha (green tea) flavoured ice cream.
Living in Hitachinaka, a small seaside town, I have had the privilege of spending this season down at the beach for the past two years. Here's a few things that I've learnt about Japanese beach culture.
At the height of summer, when the beaches are crowded, the are certain things that stand out on a Japanese beach.
There is nothing casual about heading to the beach. If you think it is as simple as putting on a bikini, grabbing a towel and slipping on some flip flops then you are sadly mistaken. A day at the beach is a meticulously planned event. Families turn up with wheel-barrows full of things. Tents, chairs, an array of garden furniture, massive ice boxes, 5 course meals, games, toys and anything else that can be used to recreate the comfort and look of a living room, and of course all the products, accessories and make-up that can facilitate a bathroom. There is nothing minimalist about enjoying nature.
One does not simply lie on the sand -oh no. You might have noticed that people don't want to get tanned here. On a sunny day, it is very common to see women walking around with black umbrellas and long sleeves to avoid any exposure. This is no different on the beach. People bring special beach tents to lie underneath. On a busy day, my local beach resembles a camping site.
You are likely to see women getting on and off the trains in Tokyo wearing heels so stupidly high that they can barely walk. It is laughable and embarrassing as a woman to watch. This trend is actually more ridiculous given the context of the beach. Of course not everyone does it. Most people wear what I consider to be the most popular footwear in Japan - Crocs - or an even more ugly variation of them. However, and quite disappointingly, it is the norm for young women to wear high heels on the beach. This is accompanied with little-girl princess style bikinis. So much pink, so many frills.... what an eye-sore. Ok, sorry to get bitter... lets bring it back to a more positive note....
Sukiwari is an excellent Japanese beach game. The premise is simple:
1) Put a watermelon on a plastic bag or some tarpaulin (to catch the all the bits). Make sure not to place it close to where other people have set up their beach living rooms.
2) Blindfold a friend, give them a big stick, spin them around a couple of times, stand back and yell directions to where the watermelon is.
3) Tell them when to swing, and if they've succeeded you'll have a smashed watermelon to snack off.
We tried this for John's birthday last weekend at Ajigaura beach. On his first try, the stick snapped in half and the watermelon was barely scratched. On his second try, John successfully smashed open the watermelon and fun times were had all round.
Interesting fact; A smashed open watermelon looks a bit like human brains.
Well, that about sums it up!
If you get a chance to go to the beach in Japan this summer, then I strongly recommend it. It is a perfect chance to not only relax, soak up some sun and do all the other typical beachy stuff, but it is also a perfect place for people watching.