While Japan may epitomize what it means to be a workaholic, it also has some very good national holidays. I think Canada would be a kinder and healthier nation if we adopted such occasions as Respect For the Aged Day, Greenery Day, Health and Sports Day and the little known but much loved Marine Day. Interestingly, in Japan it can be hard to tell that you are in the midst of a holiday, mostly because everything stays open. Banks and schools are closed, but anything that has to do with food or shopping is open for business. You’d be crazy not to keep your boutique or bakery open on the one day where people have the time to get out and spend their money. And spend their money they do. On holidays in our town there is even a line-up outside the hole-in-the-wall greasy-chopstick restaurant near our house.
Last week was what is known in Japan as Golden week. It’s almost an entire week of national holidays strung together. If you play your cards right and take a little time off, then you are looking at a nice 9-day long holiday. Matt and I spent a few of these days in our hometown, but we finally did what everyone else was doing and took to the road. Some friends had chosen to take off to Korea for the week, another journeyed to Saitama to run a marathon. We packed up the car with our little 2-man tent, surfboards, and baby paraphernalia and headed south to the beach town of Aoshima to see what kind of waves there were to be had.
On our drive south, we noticed the various unfamiliar license plates. Lots of people from everywhere were traveling down our packed, 1-lane poor excuse for a highway. A lot of them were surfers with boards strapped to the roof of their cars. Surfers also can’t seem to resist a good board-shop bumper sticker or rearview window decal, so they were easy to spot. Along the way we stopped at one of Matt’s usual surf spots. The lot was packed full of vehicles from every corner of southern Japan and they didn’t look like they were going anywhere fast.
A parking lot full of squatting surfers is an interesting site to see. Some set up huge tents, equipped with cots and folding tables and chairs, others live out of their station wagons or mini vans. People bring their scraggly longhaired kids, who when they aren’t surfing too, are weaving through the parked cars on their skateboards. They assemble their camp stoves and they create spaces to hang their drying wet suits. They play with their dogs and their leashed up cats, wax their boards, fearlessly show off their tattoos and walk barefoot on the pavement. If they aren’t surfing, they’re sleeping, eating, or smoking.
This location was not an anomaly. The entire length of the coast was packed with every kind of wave rider; long boarders, boogie boarders, wind surfers, short boarders. You name it and they were out there. We discovered upon our arrival in the south that there was a surf competition being held in Aoshima, and it was even more of a zoo there than up in our neck of the woods. It seemed insane that so many people with the same hobby would all be out doing the same thing at the same time. I wondered if any surfers had decided to do something different that week, like go to the movies or stay home and
organize their record collection, or take a trip into the mountains. By the looks of it, it didn’t seem likely.
This assembly of like minded-hobbyists seemed to go beyond ocean enthusiasts. Out on the open road there were packs of bikers straddling their shiny Harley’s in seemingly brand new leather chaps. There were roadsters too, looking slick in restored vintage convertibles, sporting bizarre haircuts and sleeve length tattoos. We found families forever posing in front or random monuments and scenic backdrops, taking photographic evidence that they were in fact where they stood at that moment on their holiday.
We spent two days down south enjoying the sun, watching Matt catch his waves, introducing Noah to the concept of a tent and driving right to southern tip of Kyushu to see the wild horses of Cape Toi. After a couple nights in a tent too small for a family of three, we trucked it back home for a night of proper rest. With one day left in our precious Golden Week, we decided to take up an invitation to go rock climbing with a student of Matt’s. The rock faces were about an hour north of us, so again we were in the car, this time speeding through the valleys and mountain tunnels of Oita. It was some of the prettiest scenery I’d seen in a long time and I was secretly pleased to know it was just beyond our backyard.
Upon arriving at the rock faces, of which there were a good variety, I was surprised to see the number of climbers scurrying up the dangerous cliffs and facades. I was under the impression that this place was known only to the locals, but Matt’s student told us this area was pretty popular with climbers and that most of the people there that day were likely from out of town. So, again, the Golden Week hobbyist parade continued.
One family we met, with a very calm and polite 10 year-old son, said they’d come all the way from Fukuoka. I asked them how often they climb, in which they said just about every week at an indoor climbing gym. The boy professed that his main hobby of choice was climbing, even though he also liked baseball. The mother (or the aunt, not quite sure about who was who) had arms like a python. Here we were sitting in front of a 20 meter rock face, one that scared the crap out of me just by looking at it, and she goes on to tell us that she’s climbed cliffs some 300 meters high. Is that even possible? Indeed, all the other climbers also seemed of a very high caliber, climbing impressive walls with deep overhangs and challenging holds.
All of this definitely gave me the impression that Golden Week in Japan is everyone’s golden opportunity to do what they love to do most, and maybe what they wish they could be doing every other day of the year. I also get the feeling that these hobbies are something people take very seriously. They aren’t just casual pastimes that they tend to every month or so. They are concentrated efforts that people work at diligently. A Japanese hobbyist is an impressive specimen to behold and the whole weeklong experience had a contagious air to it all. Indeed, by the end of it I found myself secretly wanting to be a part of a surfing clique or a climbing posse. With a surf-addicted husband and little boy who is already climbing the walls of our apartment, I suppose it’s inevitable, right?