Our stay at the seaside hotel in KatuuraCity last weekend was pretty good. We did not go to the Kamogawa Sea World as I thought we might and as I wrote you we were going to do, because the weather was not good enough. Emma went to the Kamogawa Sea World last May on a school trip, and she said that many of the attractions there are outdoor shows - things like jumping killer whales, dolphins and seals, etc. So because of the weather we decided to pass on that idea this year.
This is the second out of three times we have visited this hotel that the weather has been poor. We are thinking of trying a different town next year. It wasn’t a typhoon like it was the first time, just overcast skies and cool temperatures. So we did not go into the sea but spent the two days swimming in the hotel’s indoor and outdoor pools. I sat under a UV sunlight and got a little tan.
The hotel was less crowded this time than previously, because in our other trips we went in August, which is hotter and a busier holiday period. This July trip was cheaper and less crowded. It is only two hours away from Tokyo Station on a BosoPeninsula express train. The countryside changes really fast once you get out of the city. The Boso Peninsula, which is famous for peanuts, features low mountains and is heavily wooded. The towns there are all either farming villages or fishing villages. The fishing towns are all cramped into the narrow coastal plains up to where the low mountains just shoot straight up, without any foothills. First there is flat coastal plain, then a few meters away is a wood-covered low mountain. In some instances, the train line or the highway is the coastline. Lack of foothills is one of the surprising things about Japanese geography.
The farming villages are cramped into the narrow valleys between these low mountains. As much of the flat land as possible is devoted to rice fields, meaning that the rice fields come right up to the doors of the houses. Farmers open their doors and they are immediately looking out onto their paddies.
This contributes to the generally cluttered look of Japanese scenery, but it also makes the Japanese countryside spookily dark at night. At night, once you get away from the lights of the compact villages you enter heavily wooded pitch blackness. In the daytime it’s very green and humid. Standing on the platform of the Katsuura Station waiting for our express train for the trip home I said to Emma and Junko that the birdsong in the distance sounded like jungle sound effects in a movie. They laughed and agreed with me.
The express train back to Tokyoon Sunday did not take the same route as the train going to Katsuura on Saturday. The outbound route ran closer to the Tokyo Bay shoreline, and I could see the water of the bay with ships anchored out there, and the horizon in the distance, plus the Tokyo Disneyland and TokyoDisney Seaamusements parks, lots of marinas and industrial park land. The return route was further inland, through urban suburbs. So on the way home I kept looking out the window to see the same familiar sights from the outbound journey, but it was impossible.
We arrived home tired, with skin so clean it ached: too much fresh ocean air, swimming in hot pools and cold pools, plus the sauna and the “sento” public baths. I noticed that Emma and Ken did get some sun from swimming in the outdoor (rooftop) pool, even though the weather was overcast, which goes to show that you can still get tanned, and even burned, right through the clouds.
This year there was a small number of Japanese “yakuza” gangsters at the hotel. They were easy to spot by their full-torso body tattoos, ending at the elbows just in time to be covered by a T-shirt, or short-sleeved dress shirt when they are dressed. But swimming suits revealed their body decoration, not in its entirety, but enough. I was particularly interested in a married couple we saw on Saturday. They were swimming with their son, whose name I overheard as “Yu.” The boy’s mother swam with a white linen or cotton shirt over her swim suit to cover her heavy tattooing, but you could still see it peeking out here and there. Later I asked Junko and Emma if they saw “Mrs. Yakuza” in the ladies’ changing room. They said they didn’t.
On Sunday there were several more heavily tattooed people enjoying the pools. Some of these were just young surfer dudes from the local beach, but a couple more were yakuza, with the full-torso decorations.
Before leaving on Sunday I wanted to walk on the beach and look for stones or seashells. There was nothing there. The beach looked like it had been upgraded with a load of new sand since last year. Ken said that he wanted to see crabs, so I went back to the hotel gift shop where he, Emma and Junko were shopping and I took him out to the local fishing harbor just a stone’s throw away from the hotel. A cement sea wall protected the Katsuura sea port, a small affair for the local fishing company on the far side of the harbor. On the near side, from our approach, all the fishing boats were pulled up out of the water. No fishing on Sundays? There were two Japan Coast Guard ships at dockside, and locals were fishing with rods from crumbling cement pier in the cesspool of the harbor. On the ocean side of the sea wall the water was at low tide and we could see a lot of small crabs sunning themselves on parts of the wall sticking out of the foul-looking water. They scurried away sideways when we approached.
Across the road from the Katsuura harbor, and also just a few meters from the hotel’s driveway, was a sad-looking, dull, worn-down ferroconcrete structure. In fact, many of the buildings near the sea look like this. It looked like how I imagined some Soviet-era far east Russian town to look, worn and rusting, forgotten by Moscow, abandoned by all the young people. I later learned that this was the Katsuura City Hall. Yuck!
To complement the Soviet style of the City Hall, the neighborhood houses themselves are nothing to look forward to living in. Gardens overgrown with weeds, fishing nets draped over fences or on poles to dry, rusting cars tucked off the streets. It looks like every second house has a surfboard leaning next to the front door, too. These are residences of fishermen, surfers, surf instructors, and hotel employees. Maybe a combination of all. In many ways it is a sad, grotesque looking town.
I discovered a local coffee shop called, in English, CANADIAN COFFEE HOUSE right at the juncture of two murky, trash-filled, rancid salt-water canals leading down to the harbor. I had no time or money to go in. And besides, I don’t drink coffee. But I took a picture of it and went back to the hotel excited about telling Junko about it.