17m 03s

Etiquette for fun at beaches in Japan/Japanese Festivals

Living in Japan

Broadcast on July 3, 2022 Available until July 31, 2023

Summer is in full swing, and people are looking forward to getting back to the beach. Keeping a few things in mind makes the experience better for everyone. In the main section of the program, innkeeper Helen Langford explains the etiquette for having fun along the shore. In the latter part of the program, Tashiro Kyoko, an anchor with NHK WORLD-JAPAN’s news service, talks about Japanese festivals. Summer and autumn are prime time for "matsuri." Kyoko explains their appeal, goes into some of the history, and tells us how to join in.

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【Guest】 Helen Langford: Innkeeper and writer
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Photo of the beach in Kamakura taken by Helen

[Transcript]

Living in Japan. Hello everyone, thank you for tuning into our show. I'm Ruth. And I'm Stuart. Living in Japan is a program for international residents in Japan, whether now or in the future.
 
That's right. We share hints and tips to make the best out of your life in Japan. Now it's July. Summer is in full swing. I was born in December, which is summer in my home country of Australia. Maybe that's why I love summer so much. I get excited about this time of year. How about you, Ruth?
 
I love summer too. I was raised in Hawaii, and I love the beach. But we don't have anything like those beach houses they have in Japan in Hawaii, so I really like those beach houses.
 
Yeah, me too. We might talk about that later, actually. Today it's all about the beach. Now, many people have refrained from going to the beach during the past two years due to COVID-19. But this year, I think many people are looking forward to going to the beach. So today, we will introduce you to the etiquette for fun at beaches in Japan. Okay, let's welcome today's guest.

HINTS FROM SENPAI

Okay, now it's time for our main section, Hints from Senpai.
Senpai is a Japanese word for whoever has more knowledge or experience. Every single show, we will invite a different senpai that can give us tips and hints on how to do things better.
 
And today's Senpai is Helen Langford, who came to Japan from Canada to learn karate and now runs an inn with her family in Kamakura and is also a writer. Welcome, Helen.
Hi, Helen.
Hi, nice to meet you.
 
Now, I was very surprised when I heard about your motivation for coming to Japan. You came to Japan to study karate.
Yes, that's true. So, I came in 2006 to study karate, and I was teaching English as well for the visa and the income. When I was a kid, I did karate for a number of years, and in university, I got back into it and thought I might like to pursue it as a career. And to do that, I thought coming to Japan would be the best thing to do. So, the original plan was two years, and it's now been 16.
 
So are you still doing karate?
No, unfortunately I'm not. When we moved to Kamakura about that time, our dojo closed, and I had a small child. We were starting a new business, and just time kind of got away on us, so.
 
Do you like living in Kamakura?
I do. I love it.
Yeah, I love it. I live there too.
Oh, wonderful.
 
I feel so left out. Now you're also active as a writer while running an inn in Kamakura. Now Kamakura is about an hour from Tokyo by train. It is an historic city with many shrines and temples and is a popular tourist destination for tourists from abroad. But people can also enjoy the beach in the summer, which is not the image I had originally of Kamakura. Right.
So is the beach close to your inn?
 
Very close to the inn. Basically, there's a road between us and the beach, so at high tide we're maybe 30, 40 meters from the waterline. And Kamakura is definitely a place that people come for the shrines and the temples. Before the pandemic, most of our guests are international travelers there for exactly that. But in the summer, we always have an uptick in local travelers or local visitors who are there for the beach.
 
I actually live quite close to Kamakura, and I was wondering what is the attraction of Kamakura for you? What do you like about it?
Well, I grew up in Canada, and where I live there is no ocean anywhere near me, so just being by the beach is really special. But what I really enjoy is just that tranquility in the morning, you know, when the sun's coming up and no one else is around, my favorite part.
Sounds fantastic.
 
I can actually walk to the beach from my house.
You can?
Yeah, it's really nice early in the morning. I love it.
 
Oh, well, I live on a river, so that's kind of like a good consolation for that. Now, today, Helen will tell us how to enjoy beaches in Japan and decipher the myriad of rules, using Kamakura as an example.
 
Yes, Kamakura is a great place to come. It's just about an hour by a train from central Tokyo, so the perfect day trip if you want to spend the time at the beach. In July and August, there's also an awful lot of beach houses open where you can eat and drink, and you can also rent beach items like parasols, rubber boats, and even take a shower. So, all you have to do is bring a swimsuit and a towel, and you can easily enjoy yourself.
 
Well, I love Japanese beach houses because you can stay out of the sun, you can take a warm shower afterwards, you don't have to sit on the sand. They're really, really, great.
 
They have delicious food, drinks, sometimes music. Australia has a lot of beach houses, but they're actually better known as clubhouses. Usually the lifesavers are stationed there, but they also serve food and so on and have drinks and play music as well.
 
Okay, Helen, we can also enjoy marine sports on the beach in Kamakura, right?
Yes, for sure. Actually, my husband is a surfer, and I enjoy paddleboarding. And there are quite a few surf shops along the coast as well, and some of them offer rentals for boards and have lessons for beginners, and not just surfing, but also windsurfing and paddleboarding. So, there are lots of other options other than just swimming. 
 
The coastline, including Kamakura, is called the Shonan area, right? There are many beaches, and each beach has its own unique characteristics and offers a variety of marine sports.
 
Yes, depending on the location, you can enjoy canoeing, kayaking, sailing, even diving, banana boating, beach tennis, yoga, all sorts of different things. If you know what you want to try, you can just pop it into a search engine and lots of options should come up, including one-day active tours.
 
Fantastic. I love marine sports myself, but I haven't tried beach yoga yet. Maybe I'll try it soon. One of the best things about Japanese beaches for me is the fireworks at night. In Australia, fireworks for personal use are actually banned. You can't buy them in the shops, but in Japan, of course, we know you can. It's fantastic.
 
It really is. I love those ones that you can hold in your hand, like the sparklers and things that you get in Japan. I love those. And you can get them at convenience stores, and they're really cute, and they're in a nice little package. It's just so great.
 
Yes, they're a lot of fun. I like to do those with my kids, and sometimes even the guests get involved with them. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that beaches often have rules when it comes to fireworks. For example, our beach prohibits the use of fireworks after 10 o’clock at night. It's a noise thing just for the people who live nearby.
Right.
But you can definitely find out on signs around the beach, so you'll know what you can and can't do.
 
And I guess another thing would be to always take your trash home with you, right?
Yes, please.
And also, another really important point is that you are not, I mean, obviously, it’s understood, but you cannot take these firework packages back to your home country on airplanes. They will not let them on. They're hazardous materials, even though they look super cute. So, you can't really use them as souvenirs.
 
They would be great souvenirs though, but yes, it's too dangerous for that. And please reinforcing what Ruth just said, take your trash home. Some of the best beaches in Japan unfortunately have so much firework rubbish left for the morning. It's so, so sad.
 
Today's theme is the etiquette for fun at beaches in Japan. From here, we'd like to talk about manners. What kind of things we should pay attention to on Japanese beaches?
 
Yes, there are a few things to keep in mind. As you probably know, beaches have areas where swimming is prohibited, whether those areas are for commercial use like fishing, or for marine sports, where it would be dangerous to be swimming as well. Many beaches do have signs posted, so you will be able to figure out where they are, the lifeguards are telling you, or there will be buoys. So, you can also check websites. A lot of beaches now have websites. Ready for all that . . . information.
 
Yes, exactly. Also, keep an eye out for certain ocean creatures that want to sting you. So, jellyfish in particular, it will depend on where you are. But in Kamakura, they definitely start showing up late July, early August, and they're there for the rest of the summer season. So, keep an eye out for those and other creatures that might be after you. Now, there are lifeguards on the beach, so if you have any questions or if you've been stung, you can go up to them for some support.
 
Wow, I totally have to watch out for jellyfish, too. I've been stung in Hawaii, and it is not fun. Also, some beaches have tiny bugs in the sand, so I always recommend to sit on a towel or put, like, a beach sheet down and then sit not sitting directly on the sand.
 
And the sand also gets really hot.
It does.
So I, myself, sit on a towel. Now also, if you're planning to take your dog or other pets with you, it is better to check the website of the beach in advance. There are quite a few rules, so you should be aware of those.
 
Sometimes they don't allow dogs.
Yeah, and speaking of animals, we experience this every day around your area, Helen. There are quite a few large birds, such as kites and crows, so you need to be really careful when you're eating food on the beach.
Ah, yes.
 
Helen, is there anything else that we should be aware of on the beach?
Well, beaches often have designated areas for drinking and smoking, so be aware of that. And if you are drinking and then go into the water, do take care, because, of course, consuming alcohol increases the risk of drowning.
Yeah.
 
Certainly, it does. What about tattoos at the beach in Japan?
Well, you're going to see people with tattoos on the beach, but some beaches and lots of beach houses have rules restricting visible tattoos. So, to avoid trouble, it's a really good idea to cover them up, unless you're absolutely certain that the beach you're visiting is tattoo friendly.
You can actually get some stickers to cover small tattoos at some of the pharmacies and other places, so I think a lot of Japanese people will use those.
 
Definitely. One final request from me on behalf of people who live near the beach, please take your trash with you at the end of the day. Some beaches don't have trash cans, some do, but they fill up really quickly. And throughout the day, the wind picks up and you see bottles going blowing down the beach. So, keep an eye on your trash. Please take it with you, or at least throw it out. Let's do everything we can to keep the beaches clean.
 
Yes, indeed. That's even for people who don't live near the beach. I cannot stand the amount of rubbish there on beaches in Japan. So please, everybody take your stuff with you, or yeah, of course, uses the trash cans that are provided.
 
Another thing, I don't think visitors to Japan truly understand how hot it gets here during the summer.
Right.
And of course, heat stroke is a big problem as well.
Yes.
So, please drink plenty of water while you're enjoying the beach.
Right.
 
Today's guest was Helen Langford. Thank you so much for coming in and telling us about the beach and the etiquette, Helen.
Thank you, Helen.
Thank you so much for having me.

GOOD TO KNOW

Now we move on to Good to Know. In this part of the show, our guest will tell us what they recommend we do to make our lives in Japan much better. Today, we welcome Kyoko. She's an anchor on NHK WORLD-JAPAN's news program. Hello, Kyoko.
 
Hello, thank you so much for having me.
It's a pleasure, absolute pleasure.
My pleasure.
 
So what will you share with us today?
Well, I'm here to talk about Japanese festivals or in Japanese, matsuri.
Yeah.
 
This distinguished music: when you hear this in the street, you know there's definitely a matsuri going on somewhere in a community.
Right.
I love this sound. I love this sound.
 
Thank you so much. So, there's numerous festivals taking part in this country all year round, but the peak comes in the summer and autumn seasons, so we're just approaching that timing. And many have been canceled in the past two years due to restrictions from the pandemic, but according to an NHK poll, roughly two-thirds of the biggest events are returning this year.
Two-thirds.
Great.
That's fantastic.
So we're getting a big chance to enjoy them for the first time in three years.
Oh yay.
 
So, let's start with the basics.
Okay.
Japanese traditional festivals, many have spiritual meaning and have connection to nature.
Okay.
 
It's often held in and around shrines and temples, and everyone is welcome to attend.
So, all of us can go?
Anyone can go.
Okay. All right.
At the spot.
 
And some are said to date back more than a thousand years. And they've been passed down in the community for generations.
Wow.
 
Now, festivals in the summer, as we have the Bon festival season, they're often held to honor ancestors and greet their spirits' visit back home.
So, the ancestors are sort of coming back, kind of thing. Okay.
 
That is the Bon season. While in autumn, many go through rituals wishing for a good harvest. And there are many more other events that pray for the safety of the family or peace in the country. There are also ones that celebrate the seasons, like the snow and the flowers and others that depict historic events.
 
And, you know, we see some sort of motifs or kind of props in the festivals, and those are different depending on the festival, right?
That is right. The mikoshi. That's one of the iconic figures in matsuri, I think. It's a structure carried around the streets by people's hands. And it's often done very loudly with a big crowd around it.
 
And they're like, chanting, right?
Yes.
Okay.
They often say, "Wasshoi, wasshoi."
 
What are they carrying there in that mikoshi?
Those structures are meant to be portable shrines to carry the deity out to the community and wish for people's happiness and prosperity.
And well, I like the dance part of it.
 
That's another important element. We call it Bon dance. The Bon festival season: that word comes from it. It’s traditionally held for honoring and entertaining our ancestors. And some dances are performances by trained locals or professionals, while others are open for everyone to participate.
Great.
 
And there's many more elements in festivals. Like at other festivals around the world, there are fireworks, street food, souvenir shops, traditional music, and many more that builds up to the atmosphere.
 
So how can we participate in these events?
It's important to know that some parts are open for everyone, and some parts are limited, because many of the rituals are considered sacred and involve training sessions.
Yeah, fair enough.
 
The ones that, like, the carrying of the portable shrines or the performing style of the dances are limited to local residents or to those who have registered in advance.
Okay.
 
If you're already a member of the community and, or are able to take part in preparations, there is a chance you can join regardless of your nationality. So, it's best to check with the shrine or temple holding the festival.
 
It is. I live on a river, and we have this little park, and they have a little community center in the park there. And when I first moved there 20 odd years ago, I went there and asked, "Can I participate in your local matsuri?" So, every year I have been able to do that, accepted me right from the beginning. So, I do recommend that for anyone who wants to join in a local festival.
 
So anybody can watch it, no problem with watching it. But if you want to participate, you should probably ask in advance, either at your local community center or maybe your city office or something like that.
Exactly.
Okay.
 
But if you come across a Bon dance where everyone is dancing in a big circle, that's where everyone is welcome to join in on the spot.
Okay.
 
And there's usually a big stage in the middle of that circle where dancers show you the moves.
Okay.
 
So you can join in either wearing yukata, the casual summer kimono, but you can also join in wearing casual clothes as well. There's no rules to it. The only rule is to follow everyone's move.
Right.
Don’t do original dances.
Okay.
 
And where can we find the information about these festivals?
The easiest way is to go search on the internet. More and more official websites are giving out information in multiple languages. And for small local festivals you can contact the office of shrines or temples, or simply ask local people, like what Stuart, you did. But please keep in mind that not all festivals are resuming this year. And those that are may still be scaled down, meaning schedules and venues may be different from the past ones. So, be sure you have the latest information, like by adding to your keyword 2022 when you search on the internet.
That’s a good idea.
 
Please make sure you make the best of the season.
Absolutely. Well, thank you very much, Kyoko. It's good to know.
Thank you.
 
Ruth, all of this talk of beaches and festivals today has got me in the mood for summer. That's why I wore my yukata to the studio today. What do you think, Ruth?
I love it.
Thank you.

I know, I'm really excited about it too, but remember, we all have to remember that we're not totally out of this pandemic. So, there's still a little risk of infection, so let's all be careful.

Yes, please. Now, we're looking forward to more and more listeners joining us. You can listen to this show on our website too. Go to NHK WORLD-JAPAN website, click on On Demand, choose Audio, and find Living in Japan.

Also, if you have any comments or requests, please send us a message through our website. We will be back on August 7th with another edition of Living in Japan.
I cannot wait.
Bye.

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