Catching Waves in Japan

August 11, 2016 2016年8月11日

Hang loose from Bondi, Bali and… Shimanto? Japan might not be the first place that comes to mind when people think of a surfing destination. While I didn’t come to Japan specifically to surf, I met many locals and other travelers whom I ended up traveling and catching some waves with. The culture and lifestyle around surfing may not be the same as in Australia or Bali, but what the locals have created for themselves is something else entirely; it’s something that feels tightly knit and a lot more intimate. Popular surfing spots can be found throughout the southern coast of Japan, especially in Shimanto, which is situated on Shikoku, Japan’s smallest main island. Everyone knows each other in Shimanto and most of the locals have a connection to surfing.


When we drove down the coastal road to Shimanto from Kochi City, it almost felt like being back on the famous Highway 101 that stretches along the West Coast of North America. The windy road took us through mountains and mile-long tunnels, all while teasing us with peeks of rugged waves, big rocky stone formations and the turquoise sea as far as eyes could see. With the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, I felt incredibly at ease, and it felt like everything made sense. Where the ocean ended, the mountains began, and over centuries, people carved out a living space for themselves in between. We walked through the lush green forest, along the beaches, and searched for large seashells by the shore. The vibrant colors of nature made it evident that Shikoku is one of the most fertile parts of Japan. The valleys between the mountains were bright yellow, which signified that the rice was almost ready to be harvested. At sunset, the fields reflected the rays so brightly it felt like I was looking out at a sea of pure gold.


During my first weekend, I saw someone, who obviously wasn’t a local peeking out of the water. Curious as to what brought him to Shimanto, I paddled over to him. His name was Bruce, an Australian who came to Japan years ago and opened his own surf and English school. He stayed and hasn’t looked back since. He said that not a lot of foreign travelers make it down to Shimanto, which preserves the town and its surrounding area’s charm of being an unexplored and off-the-beaten-path destination in Japan. I ended up visiting Shimanto several times during my months spent in Japan, and no matter if it was October or the middle of spring, the town was usually quiet with only a handful of people in the water at a time. I loved being able to sit on my board and watching people catch waves, without having to worry about being in anyone’s way. For any traveler, there will always be a couple of memories they will never forget about their time spent in a country. I will never forget how incredibly attentive and mindful the people I met were. I’m not the best surfer, but out of this comes one of my favorite memories from the trip. Complete strangers cheered for me after I unexpectedly caught a wave. I sat on my board with a beaming smile afterwards, happy that I was able to to be a part of their great community.


Since Shimanto is on the other side of Shikoku and the drive is long, many surfers converted their cars into perfect sidekicks for their adventures. Making the most with the space that is given to you is a theme that I encountered over and over in Japan. Some minivans had seats missing and instead had an integrated shower, surfboard storage and even something that looked like a bed. These cars were strewn throughout beach side parking lots and their owners got together after surfing to cook and to recap the day.


Tired from the eventful day, it felt like everything came full circle as we fell asleep listening to waves rolling in and the rain hitting the roof. Japan is an incredibly versatile traveling destination and really does offer it all. There are still parts of the country which will give you a feeling of being the first one to explore them, or at least leave you with the feeling like you’re the first traveler to have passed through in a while.


Contributor & Photographer: Mareike Entzian

寄稿者&カメラマン: Mareike Entzian