Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shirahama: a little bit of Australia in Japan, Part 2

Arriving in Shirohama, I met up with my friends and boarded a bus to the beach, about 15 minutes away. They'd arrived at an earlier train (the first one of the day), but had spent the extra hour or so looking for a hotel for the night (everything seemed packed to the gills, so the few spots still available were being hawked for a tidy sum, around $90 per person per night).

The beach was small, but beautiful. The sand, as promised, was white and reasonably fine. For a Japanese beach, there was little trash around, too. (Tip: don't assume that beaches in Japan are as clean as the city streets usually appear to be; over the course of the bike ride we did some beach cleanups and pulled out what seemed like an unlimited supply of bottles, cans, cigarrette butts, remains of fireworks and other assorted junk out of the sand.) The water was a very pretty blue and the area was a bay -- shallow for a long way out with very calm waters. Also, unlike the water around Hokkaido or even Sado, the water here was very pleasantly warm. There was plenty of space to lounge on the beach, great snorkeling areas, and a good handful of people walking around the beach in furry boots or high heels to make fun of.

After a few hours of enjoying the warmth (no direct sun, it was cloudy the whole time) and walking around the beach, we walked over to the hotel so my friends could check in. Took them a bit to get settled in, but I didn't mind in the least -- right outside their hotel was one of the "ashiyu", or foot baths, spread around the area. It looks a bit like a fancy bus stop on a street corner, with a nice bamboo reed roof. Underneath is what could pass for a small and pretty city fountain, except that it's surrounded by wooden seating (enough for about 9 people or so, around the three sides that aren't the street) and it's constantly flowing with natural hot spring water. Passerby are welcome to take their shoes off and soak their feet in the hot water, so that's what I did for a good 20 minutes, chatting a bit with the people who were sitting around me. (Tip: conversations in Japanese in such circumstances generally feature the word "kimochi" -- literally, "feeling", usually used to mean "feels good". Use that with slightly different intonations and you've covered about 70% of what most native Japanese would say. Another 20% are probably onomatopeas. :) )

We asked around a bit as to what else there was to do, since by that time there were some clouds rolling around and we felt an occasional drizzle. Most people there were a bit flustered when we asked, though. Not sure if that's because everyone else researches what they're going to see there before going (instead of just showing up and seeing what happens like we did), or because there really isn't anything besides the beach.

We settled on walking along the coast for a bit and, besides beautiful views, also found a small aquarium (they were closing for the day by the time we got there, though it didn't seem like it was quite the attraction to travel all the way there for), a small cave (with space to hide and scare the daylights out of your friends behind you), and a glass-bottom boat boarding area (would have been really pretty there, there were tons of fish even close to the main beach; sadly they, too, were done for the day). On the way back, we noticed several dozens of people had joined the handful of fishermen previously sitting along the coastline. Given the obscene number of cameras mounted on tripods facing a small island with a natural archway behind which the sun would set, we figured out they everyone was dutifully waiting for the sunset. Since it was cloudy and drizzling and the sun wasn't visible anyways, we left them to it and made our way back to town.

Although I'd brought my camping gear, I decided to call it a day and head back home. Camping on the beach is great, but rain takes away a lot of the fun. (Plus, if I want to get rained on at the beach, I can go to Half Moon Bay back home anytime. :) ) Fortunately, I did get a seat on the train back home. There are some advantages to boarding a train at its first station. :)

No comments: