There’s only so long a beach girl can survive Japanese mountain life. A year was the limit for me.
I was thrown into the middle of Japan when I first moved there for work 6 years ago. In the literal sense, the town next to me held a belly button festival every year as evidence to its central placement on Japan’s main island, Honshu. I pulled through thanks to rock river jumps, canyoning, hiking and snowboarding, but being the beach baby I am Japan’s waves were calling me.
12 months into my working holiday I set off from the mountains and toward the black sandy beaches of Ichinomiya, Chiba, to experience the Japanese surf scene. It didn’t take long to meet my new neighbors. My 1LDK (=as small as your bathroom) apartment was situated adjacent to a set of six beach-style cottages. The entire block was nicknamed mura by the locals, meaning ‘village’ in Japanese. Residents of mura included surfers who lived there full time, and surfers who came down on the weekends from Tokyo. We were all young, we all loved to surf. Every weekend was a party.
The beach in Ichinomiya is no island lagoon, the shore lined with black sand, break walls, tetra pods and fishermen waste. But consistent surf and a contagious friendly local vibe have kept me here for five years. A country town, Ichinomiya is quiet, pleasant and surrounded by dense foliage, rice, melon, strawberry and vegetable farms, and watching the summer sun fade into the nearby mountains is a real treat. The local surfers promote sustainable lifestyles and many grow their own vegetables and it wouldn’t be unusual to see a handful of mini-electric ‘eco’ cars with surfboards strapped on top on any given day.
A good handful of Japan’s top pro surfers live here, the consistent waves and laid-back lifestyle make it the perfect competition training ground. Many of the older surfers have settled comfortably and passing on their surfing blood to their kids, as a result there is a new generation of freakishly skilled young surfers coming through the ranks. On any day of the week you will see these kids with their parents ripping it up in the water, rain or shine. During the big wave season half the town seems to call in sick at work and declare a typhoon yasumi (day off for the waves!)
September kicks off the typhoon season, which is the best season for waves in Japan. After the brunt of the storm hits Ichinomiya’s beaches are left with days of sizey swell, offshore winds, and relatively small crowds.
By winter most of the pro surfers have fled to the warmer waters of Hawaii and Australia, but for the die-hard surfer wanting consistently good waves to themselves, providing you are comfortable in a 5mm thick semi-dry wetsuit topped with hood, boots and gloves, well Ichinomiya is where you’ll want to be. Of course you can always flee to mountains and do a season of snowboarding. But after the melt, Ichinomiya will pull you back for more waves and beers with the locals.
By Angie Takanami