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Counting the cost of surfing in Japan

One of the worst things about being a surfer in Japan, or any nation for that matter, are those days when there's no surf. Even worse than this are those days when close study of swell, wind, and weather charts tells you that they'll be no surf of a Saturday morning so you wake up late. But then you flip on the webcam out of curiosity only to find that there is, in fact, surf! It sounds petty (and it is) but it's enough to make a surfer weep.  So it is this Saturday morning that I find myself making matters worse by doing a bit of surf kit itinerary check and reflecting on how much it costs to go surfing in Japan.The timing isn't completely arbitrary. Last month I picked up a new wetsuit to get me through Japan's winter surf. After a session last weekend during which I could no longer feel the tips of my fingers and a case of 'ice cream' head that made it a bit tricky to focus, I promptly went out and bought gloves and a hood/cap. I was hoping to give them a run out today. Anyway, I'll add this to some of the other surfing bells and whistles that make up my surfing in Japan kit and wince at how much all of this has cost me. Starting from the top ... Wetsuit cap/hood I picked this up from a Murasaki Sports in Shin-Ochanomizu. They seemed to be having a 20%-off sale on a lot of their surf clobber (maybe a January sales thing). This is a 'large' size cap/hood from TABIE REVO (no idea). It's 3mm and has an extended neck that can tuck into the wetsuit. I felt like a complete plonker trying it on but it slipped on like a favorite sock and certainly feels warm. It's a little tight on the jaw but hopfully that'll prevent the teeth from chattering. Cost: 3,680 yen (with tax) Gloves Same store, same brand. 'Large' size. Black with a rather loud purple lining. These are 3mm. I recon I've got pretty winter resistant hands. I never wear gloves in day-to-day-life so I'm confident that I won't need to step up to 5 mm. Cost: 3,440 yen (with tax) *Surfing in Japan hack: I got 2,000 yen off the above due to points aquired from the purchase of the wetsuit below. Wetsuit I picked this up in December from a store called The Suns, again in Shin-Ochanomizu. The Suns has some sort of relationship with Murasaki Sports and they'll give you a point card that you can use in both. I'm not one for shopping around, it bores me stupid. I went in, said I had a budget of around 50,000 yen and was looking for something that could keep me surfing in January, maybe February, and then back again in March, in the central/north Chiba breaks. The kind worker picked out this Super Freak by O'NEILL. It's 5 mm on the legs and body. 3 mm on the arms. I love it! It's really easy to paddle in, gives me at least an hour of super warmth before things start to get a little chilly, and is nice and easy to slip on. The same can't be said about getting it off at the end though. Also, at 3 mm, the arms aren't the warmest. Still, I'm really happy with it. Cost: around 52,000 yen (with tax) Booties I don't know why we have to call them 'booties' instead of just 'boots'. Mixed feelings about these booties from Feel. I've had them for a few years now though. They start off warm but they don't half let a lot of water in. I can feel them weighing me down at the back end of a session. They're a nightmare to take off once you get back to the car. I have to 'peel' in stages which is the last thing you want to be doing when your freezing to death. Cost: It was a long time ago, but I think around 5,000 yen The stick I got this from a large secondhand store near the beach in Chiba (not one of the 'OFF' chain). It's a 6,2; a great all-round board for this part of Japan. It cost 15,000 yen. I've not idea how old it is but it works like a dream. Along with my smartphone (depressing, but yes), laptop, and electric blanket, it's one of my most valued possessions. The picture was taken in Bali (but I wish Chiba looked like that). Cost: 15,000 yen Leash The old one snapped last month. Just old age as, luckily, the waves that day were little tiddlers. I got this leash/leg rope from a local store here in Urayasu, Chiba. It's by CREATURES OF LEISURE. It's a 'standard' thickness and 2 m in length. I like the 'quick release' pully thing and the bright blue color. Cost: 5,000 yen Board bag A trip to Bali on an LCC airline forced me into buying a new, more streamline, board bag. I detailed that in a post here. The bag is from TRANSPORTER. It's light and slim and can only handle one board. I got it from The Suns. Cost: 7,000 yen Kit bag This was a gift, and I love it. It's got a water proof and insulated lining. The showers at my regular surf spot are cold so I can fill up some bottles with hot water and in this thing they'll still be nice and warm when I'm out after a session. Cost: It was a gift so rude to ask. Anyway, this is years old now but I found similar items online for around 5,000 yen Trinkets Key holder - can't remember and given the above costs, negligible Hot gel - 2,000 yen Board wax - 280 yen I've started so I might as well carry on with this cost of surfing in Japan business. Travel costs I'm about a 45 min drive from my regular break. I use one toll road/highway which costs me 880 yen (with an ETC card) one way. I'm not exactly sure but the buzzy little 'k car' Daihatsu that I drive requires about 4,000 yen to fill the tank with gas and I can squeeze four beach trips out of that. Parking is 500 yen (at the beach). While a lot of my Japanese surfer counterparts are lighting up pre-surf cigarettes I'm trying to give this spindly frame of mine all the help in the water it can get. Every morning before setting out I buy two packs of energy gel (weider ENERGY IN), a 4-stick pack of Calorie Mate, and packet of biscuits, all from the local Family Mart. This comes in at around 600 yen. On the way back I make a stop at a highway service station to ditch the rubbish and down a can of vending machine coffee (130 yen - it's a highway service stop after all). The cost of surfing in Japan: Budget summary Kit Wetsuit cap/hood  3,680 yenGloves3,440 yenWetsuit52,000 yenBooties5,000 yenThe stick15,000 yenBoard bag7,000 yenLeash5,000 yenKit bag5,000 yenTrinkets3,000 yen (est)Point card discount- 2,000 yenTotal: 97,120 yenTravel ...Highway tolls1,760 yenGas1,000 yenParking500 yenSnacks and coffee730 yenTotal: 3,990 yenOver the course of year, maybe I average four surfs a month and two bars of wax (summer / winter) Total: 191,520 yen Absent from this list are ... a very old, and thinner, wetsuit: 30,000 yen board shorts (they're redundant right now and are packed away somewhere): 7,000 yen the first board I bought in Japan (which I no longer use): 30,000 yen a car (not necessarily an essential for surfing in Japan, but this is more than likely going to be the case): not saying - this will make my eyes water I had though that doing this cost of surfing itinerary check was going to make me puke but the totals are actually not as high as I feared. Don't get me wrong, I could be buying a couple of flight tickets home to see the family with this, and around 4,000 yen for a surf session seems high. However, one could easily drink 4,000 yen away weekly in weekend drinks (which I rarely do). No, for me, surfing in Japan is emphatically worth it. In fact, I'm not sure I could put a real price on it. Well, no, I probably have a limit but I'm not sure where that is and given that work prevents me from surfing on weekdays, I'm unlikely to find it right now. Anyway, I hope this has helped any prospective surfers in Japan get an idea of how much it costs and what kind of surf gear you can get over here with what kind of money. More of my surfing in Japan stuff ... An Introduction To Surfing In JapanThe Best Surf Shops in Tokyo

Tokyo Comic Con 2016: Cosplay and kit in images

Tokyo Comic Con 2016 wrapped up today after it's weekend residence at Makuhari Messe International Exhibition Hall, Chiba.  This year was the first Tokyo Comic Con, the brain child of  Tokyo Comic Convention Committee Chairman Mitsuaki Munegumi, who spotted a need to quench the thirst for American comic books and Hollywood produced movies amongst Japanese readers and enthusiasts.  Stars at Tokyo Comic Con included a 93-year-old Stan Lee, the man who helped bring into our live's comic book legends like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Hulk, X-Men ... a staggering list, basically.  Jeremy Renner (the dude from Hurt Locker) was also floating around somewhere, presumably on the back of his character Hawkeye in the Avengers movies.  Those who like their sci-fi of a older vintage would have enjoyed the prospect of meeting Lance Henriksen who played the android Bishop in Aliens.When you hear or read the noun phrase 'comic con', those in the relative know will likely think of the San Diego Comic-Con (with a hyphen).  By all accounts, Tokyo Comic Con cannot compare its Californian counter part in size or scale, nor is it as big, noisy, and sexy as the Tokyo Game Show.  But it's still a lot of fun.The first Tokyo Comic Con laid out it's stall early doors; as soon as you entered the DeLorean time machine from Back to the Future, and KITT from Knight Rider lay in wait, and you knew that American productions were ruling the roost at this convention.  The Stan Lee influence was best reflected in the number of Spider-Man cosplayers  wandering among the booths.  Batman, The Joker, and Stormtroopers (along with other Star Wars characters), were also well represented by the delightfully bonkers cosplayers in attendance on the Sunday.A lot of the booths at Tokyo Comic Con displayed/sold models of super hero mainstays.  Some of the detail that goes into these things is staggering.  As are some of the prices they were selling for (this blogger didn't see much money changing hands other than at the official Tokyo Comic Con souvenir area).  But whilst most models seemed to be aimed at collectors, there were plenty of 'cute' versions of Spider-Man et al going for far more accessible prices.  There were a couple of spaces at Tokyo Comic Con for cosplayers to pose and for regular visitors to take photos.  It probably doesn't need to be said, but the visitors with the best photography kit were the otaku, and they weren't really interested in the dudes dressed as Spider-Man.  At the other end of the scale, plenty of giddy tourists were bouncing off the walls in the their attempts to take a selfie with the maddest/cutest cosplayers they could latch onto.   Video game, and soon-to-be movie, Assassin's Creed had a pretty big presence at Tokyo Comic Con, as did Japanese staple Biohazard (Resident Evil to everyone else).  Star Wars fans also had plenty to get their teeth into, including the chance to mess around with some lightsabers, debate about whether or not to pick a very smart looking 'coffee table' book, and ogle models/figures that basically most of us can't justify buying.  This blogger enjoyed the chance at Tokyo Comic Con to check out props and replicas from movies which included some bit and bobs from the Alien and Predator stories.As the for the sex-sells (or sex-increases-the-chance-that-you'll-go-home-with-our-flyers) ethos that you can find at, say, the Tokyo Game Show or any exhibit that involves cars/motorbikes, well it was at Tokyo Comic Con, too, just less of it.  With all the fantastic cosplayers wandering around, it seemed a bit pointless and boring anyway.  Enough of the words and on to the pictures.  Here are images taken by me of cosplayers and kit at Tokyo Comic Con 2016.Toys, props, originals, and replicasIron Man outside the Hot Toys boothGodzilla seems to have a goofy grin from this angle.T-800 (Terminator) gets a change of look with the lights.DeLorean (Back to the Future)KITT (Knight Rider)CooProps use the original moulds to recreate props from classic movies like Predator and the Alien franchise.  Some of the models/figures from Prime Studio 1 drew a lot of attention from both fans and regular visitors.  The attention to detail is quite frankly jaw dropping. The Pop collection of toys from Funko do a sterling job of blending 'cool' and 'cute'.Tokyo Comic Con CosplayAs I said earlier, there were two 'cosplay' zones at Tokyo Comic Con, as well as cosplayers walking between booths, contests, and special events/photo session organized by exhibitors.  There had been a bit of furore online about a decision by organizers to prevent males dressing up as females for the purposes of cosplay at this convention.  I can't remember what became of this bizarre decision, but I don't recall seeing any 'crossdressing' cosplayers (on the male side) which might have been to the detriment of the spectacle.  I don't know.Data storage device producer drobo organized a cosplay session on the Sunday.There were plenty of Star Wars cosplayers to spot Tokyo Comic Con.This blogger arrived at Tokyo Comic Con early afternoon on the Sunday.  Given the swarms of people pouring out of Kaihimmakuhari Station I had that sinking feeling that getting into the convention was going to be a major hassle.  It wasn't, and it wasn't that crowded around the booths either.  I got my 'ticket on the day' within about 5 mins (2,000 yen) and after security had a cursory look inside my bag, I was in amongst the action.  There's a bit a food court in there, and when you exit you get a stamp on the hand that'll let you back in again.  Website (Japanese): http://tokyocomiccon.jp/ 

On the way to the Seaworld in Kamogawa

Last November I made a trip to the south of Chiba to visit the Seaworld in Kamogawa. We chose to go there by car and used the aqualine which connects Tokyo and Chiba. From the center of Tokyo it takes around 1 ½ h. There is also a reasonable bus from Tokyo to the Seaworld. On the way to Kamogawa we made a small stop in the mountains to enjoy a gorgeous mountain view. We arrived at the seaworld just right after the opening at 9:30 h. We had 20 degree at the end of November! The weather was perfect and the seaworld was very empty. After we paid the entrance fee of 2800 Yen for an adult, we walked around to take a look at all the small aquariums. I really liked the ones with many jellyfish. They were shining so much in the light.But the main reason for most of the visitors is to visit the shows. They have a dolphin, sea lion and an orca show. I´ve never seen a real orca in my life before, that´s why I was very excited to see them. The show was very great, especially with the nice oceanview in the background. Also we were lucky to see a small babyorca who is living at the seaworld. For me it was a very great experience. The price is a little bit high but I absolutely recommend to go there, even in wintertime. After the shows we ate late lunch in one of their restaurant and took a walk at the beach. For sure we will come back in the future.

Nope, anmitsu still doesn't make much sense!

I may be deeply cynical about Japanese dessert but I don't let this feeling stop me from trying.  Sunday lunch came in the form of a ramen / dessert set from 糸ぐるま / itoguruma; a chain family restaurant in Japan, so old it doesn't even have a homepage.  It doesn't seem to care either.  In fact, by many accounts 糸ぐるま looks to be on its way out, and in terms of atmosphere delivers the dining equivalent of a Sunday afternoon spent in a home center i.e. it's a bit depressing. I went with a まいこセット (maiko set).  For around 800 yen it came with a double header of shoyu ramen and anmitsu (あんみつ) dessert (above), pickles and a cup of green tea.  Even though anmitsu has been around longer than 糸ぐるま, it's still very much a 'dessert staple' in Japan, particularly amongst the older crew. To this diner, it very much doesn't make sense.  A base of cubed agar jelly is topped with anko (sweet azuki bean paste), banana, kiwi, satsuma, a sole cherry, and gyūhi (a very soft mochi style sweet).  The whole bonkers combo comes with a small serving of kuromitsu, a rich, thick, black sauce that tastes like liquorice.  The ramen was nice.  The anmistsu, as I could tell by looking at it, is something that I may never get used to.  The Japanese friend with whom I was out for lunch assured me that anmitsu is a healthy dessert, to which I responded that most people eat dessert exactly because it's unhealthy.  Ultimately though, the combination of the two did a sterling job of filling me up without leaving me half comatose as Sunday lunches have a habit of doing back home.  How does the ramen / anmistsu combination sound to you?

What happens when the ETC barrier doesn’t open?

I’ve got the ETC system set up in the motor for Japan’s highways. Very quickly, for those that may not know, ETC stands for Electronic Toll Collection System. It’s a kind of box in car / credit card combo. Stick card into box and when you go through Japan’s highway toll gates, something scans it, opens the gate/barrier and off you go. When you successfully pass through the gate, said box speaks to you, something along the lines of how much you’ve just been charged (to be paid like you would a credit card every month).  As much as the ETC system makes sense (and saves the Japan motorist a little money) this driver always experiences a frisson of tension/excitement when approaching toll gates, lest they don’t actually open for me.This fleeting feeling has been exacerbated of late since I seem to have trouble getting my card into the ETC box. It’s fast turning into one of life’s banal annoyances. I fire up the engine, and reach into the glove box to slip the card into the ETC kit. It used to be that the card would be ‘accepted’ every time, indicated by the green light flashing and ETC kit saying something along the lines of ETCカードを認証しました / ETC kaado ninsyoushimashita / ETC card authorised.  These days though, the thing has become somewhat recalcitrant, only issuing its ‘authority’ when it suits (ETCカード確認ください / ETC kaado kakunin kudasai / Please check your ETC card - ‘I’ve checked it. It says ETC on it, it’s mine, it’s in the slot, and it’s that same bloody card every time!’). I find that inserting before switching on the engine helps.  On occasion I’ve seen cars get stopped at ETC toll gates that have refused to open. I confess to passing by with a smirk and imagining how annoyed the drivers stuck behind must be. Only fitting then that this smug attitude has karmically helped the same thing happen to me. This morning.  Driving to the beach for a surf, the first leg was fine. Coming back started out fine, too. It least I thought it did. Card was in slot, green light on. After passing the first toll gate however, I thought perhaps that ETC kit’s babble differed from the usual. I had music on, and was completely knackered after the surf so paid it scant thought. After ditching the snack wrappers and empty coffee can at a highway service station, I switched on the motor and ETC kit gave me the red light and told me to check the card. Eventually I got the green light and hence the obstinate thing’s blessing. Still, the prospect of the next toll gate didn’t sit well. Which is what I ended up doing, sitting uncomfortably after it wouldn’t open.  So, what happens when the ETC barrier doesn’t open?What happens is, you let out an expletive. Then you realise you don’t know what to do. Then you see what looks like a ‘help’ button outside, but you’ve overshot it. So now you have to get out of the car, in front of the furious driver behind. And the one behind them, and so on. Thankfully you avoid the death stares as the toll booth worker has come out to help. Hand them your ETC card, and REMEMBER, you need to have remembered where you’ve come from. Not as in your home country, but hopefully the last gate you went through. Now, I know this ‘surf run’ like the back of my hand, but if I was in unfamiliar territory … . So, then you have to sit with your head in your hands catching glimpses in the rear view mirror of the people behind fantasising about punching you in the face, repeatedly. It’s as awkward as you could possibly imagine, added to which it takes more than just a moment of two for toll booth worker go through the necessary procedure.It gets done though (card handed back and told to be put back into ETC kit, plus a receipt for the amount that charged), and I speed off, hoping to put distance between me and the car behind.  So now, me and ETC kit are no longer on speaking terms.  Surprisingly, ETC has its own portal site - GO!ETCPhotoFrom Flickr Author OiMax

Tokyo Bay View on the Mamacharis

Despite yesterday in Chiba being so hot and humid that I had sweat seeping from places I didn’t think sweat would seep from, the partner and I decided to head out for a ride on the mamacharis.  Last time, we hit up Kasai Rinkai Koen, taking a route along the banks of the Kyu-Edo River. You can read that post here.  On this fine / oppressively hot day we followed natural survival instinct and headed for water - Tokyo Bay. I’d seen a few pictures of a park down by the bay that looked like a nice place to put the world to rights, the name of which I couldn’t read. Nor, as it turns out, could the Japanese partner. After doing that thing of being baffled that the locals can’t even read their own language, we managed to find it on an Internet search; Takasu Seaside Park (the troublesome kanji - 高洲海浜公園 / takasu kaihin koen).From the crib near Urayasu Station (Tozai Line) we headed roughly south on searingly hot seats, over the Bayshore Expressway, and in amongst the massive apartment complexes that you can find around Minami Urayasu Station. I like it around here. The buildings have the look of vacation rentals, the avenues are broad (with nice bicycle lanes), and there are palm trees everywhere. The urban madness of regular ‘urban’ Japan is gone, and I feel like I’m cycling through California (it should be noted that I'm not from California, and nor have I ever been, but, you know, movies and that). That being said, Japan doesn’t yet seem to know what to do with all this urban space. You could open up some really nice cafes around here with tables and chairs under the palms. Instead what you get is home centers and posh dental clinics which give off about as much atmosphere as the color beige.The bicycle lane is forced to take a sharp right as we near the edge of Chiba. Here you can find a couple of hotels targeting the Disney crew who have tighter wallets (must be cheaper to stay here a little further away from the Disney Resort itself). I hope the hotels have some good restaurants on site, as there’s nothing around here other than the bay waters and yet more, massive apartment buildings.  The road here is wide, and quiet, and there’s little respite from the sun. The partner calls for a fluid break so we pop into the visitors center at 浦安市総合公園 (Urayasu-shi Park), and neck a bottle of Ramune (ラムネ), my first time to try it.  Back on the road, and after lugging the mamacharis up to the center of a bridge that crosses a placid river (maybe a tributary of the Kyu-Edo River) we pause to snap a pic of Tokyo Skytree and ponder some older gents, waist deep in the water who seem to be fishing/scraping for shellfish.  We zip down from the bridge, enjoying the breeze that comes with a bit of extra speed. On our right, the blinding whites, and garish faux Mediterranean facades of what appears to be one of those ‘have your Western style wedding party here’ type of buildings. It sounds like a party is in full swing as we pass (it is a Sunday in summer, after all).  Takasu Seaside Park appears on our left, fronting the bay waters. There’s not much to it. Apart from a scooter that looks like it’s seen better days, ours are the only two-wheelers in the small parking area. A swathe of grass bakes in the sun, and a man-made mound looks a bit pointless when it’s the only thing in the vicinity to obstruct views over the bay.  Some wavy concrete walkways and terracing immediately front the water, and there are a few groups here who’ve pitched up shelters as their base for a BBQ.  From here, you can watch the merchant ships loitering in the bay as they wait for their turn to offload cargo. There’s also a sweeping view of the Boso Peninsula, pot marked by the towers of Makuhari, and chimneys of industry.  Despite the drunken, sun soaked merriment of young BBQers, there’s something a little melancholic about the place. It feels neglected by all but a few. Perhaps the park is testament to the way most Japanese seem to turn their back on the ocean (save for a period of mayhem on the beaches in August). Or perhaps everyone is at Disneyland. Either way, this place is crying out for a Starbucks to bring in a bit of life.  Takasu Seaside Park

Summer in Japan

Althought summer may seam to be not very good moment to visit Japan  (heat, humidity, typhoons...) there is one thing that you shouldn't miss and that is festivals. There is many kinds of summer festivals, first of all are the hanabi or fireworks. Best places to see them are usually outside the big event of Sumidagawa in Tokyo (as is difficul to find a place with enough open sky on site) but there are also big events in more residential areas, usually by the river with ample grass meadows. Edogawa big fireworks event is one example of this.

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