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The difference between rules and manners on the beach

by Amy Chavez

Here on the beach at Shiraishi Island in the Seto Inland Sea, there are few rules. You may swim year-round, even before umibiraki (the opening of the sea ceremony). You may have a bonfire on the beach at night, no problem. You may camp on the beach for free. And by all means, set off fireworks and have a BBQ!

One reason there are no rules on our beach is because there are also no facilities: no public showers, no public garbage cans, no lifeguards. There are no shade trees on the beach to sit under and no public picnic tables or barbecues.

So the burden falls on the residents to provide some of these services. If you want a shower after swimming, be willing to pay ¥200 for it. If you don’t want to take your garbage home with you, you’ll have to at least buy a designated city-approved garbage bag to toss it into after separating it into burnables, non-burnables and recyclables. If you want shade, you’ll have to bring your own umbrella, or rent an umi no ie (beach house) shade structure set up on the beach for this purpose (Japan’s answer to the “lounge chair with umbrella” rentals of the Riviera). If you want to change in and out of your swimsuit, you’ll have to either use the public toilet (the only public facility provided, not counting the sand on the beach) or pay ¥100 to use those set up by the locals.

But it is the lack of rules that gives our small island appeal, and attracts a more laid-back clientele who appreciates the freedoms not often found on the beaches of mainland Japan with their crowds, parking lots, and limited hours of operation.

Yet despite our lack of beach rules, it’s amazing how many people still find rules to break.

1. Shade — a commodity: Shade structures cost ¥500 per person and can be used for the entire day. The purpose is to provide a table and shelter for those wishing to not carry a beach tent, sun umbrella, their own chairs, etc.

No, you will not try to scam shade by using the shadow cast by the sun over our umi no ie in the afternoon just because that tiny strip of shade is not actually inside the structure. Not only is this tacky, but the people who have paid for that table inside were not expecting to have neighbors suddenly appear next to or in front of them.

If, however, you’d enjoy volunteering on Sundays to dig deep holes in the sand, sink posts, cut wood, assemble bamboo roof covers, make tables, hang hammocks, buy screws and nails, paint two coats of stain, and do the weeding in the fall, winter and spring, then you are entitled to use the shade structure at a 10 percent discount.

You may not hang out your wet clothing, towels or swimsuits on our shade structure, nor may you use the hammocks, if you have not paid to use our umi no ie that we have created with our own hands, sweat and creativity.

You may not use our changing room which is provided solely for our shade-paying customers. You can use the public toilet or pay ¥100 to the old o-baachan down the beach who has one. Do not change your clothes out in the open just to save ¥100. Believe me, no one else wants to see your naked behind. I’m sorry it has to be me who breaks the news to you.

2. Beach bars: There are two bars on the beach where you can enjoy sitting in the shade and having a beer or cocktail. Please do not claim that you, papa, because you have bought a beer, deserve a bar table for your entire family, who come and go, stopping in to drink beverages from your cooler. This is crass.

Do not bring your own alcohol onto the premises of either of the two beach bars. There is an entire beach out there where you are welcome to drink your own alcohol. Yes, I know, there is no shade — nor tables — out there. But you are a cheapskate and not willing to pay for tables anyway.

3. Special sink privileges and a proviso for baby’s butts: We have a sink at our bar for washing dishes. Note that the health department does not allow us to let customers use the sink, not even for washing the vegetables you’ve brought for your BBQ, nor the fruit you’re bringing onto the premises to eat with that cup of coffee you’ve ordered.

If you want to wash your hands, there is a bucket of fresh water located next to the “inflatable cow” expressly for you and your children to wash their hands. Do not bring your child to our sink claiming the water in the bucket is too dirty. Yes, there may be a bit of sand accumulated at the bottom of the bucket, but I suggest you not wash your hands in the sand and instead, use the fresh water on top. Besides, you’ve been swimming in that sandy water all day! It will not kill you.

And finally, I know I shouldn’t have to say this but, obviously I’m wrong — the sink is not for washing your baby’s butt.

4. Drunk men: Even if you have paid for our shade structure, which includes the hammocks, you may not swing your child in the hammock so forcefully that you not only endanger the hammock’s expiry date, but that of the child in it who is now, due to centrifugal force, going upside down in circles. Shame on you, drunk papa!

And while I’m on the subject of drunk men, even if you are just a bit tipsy, please do not try on the women’s bikini tops in the beach shop. You only think this is funny because your brain is the size of a pea. Just leave those hot little pink bikinis right there — hands off! And no matter how drunk you get, please do not run around naked. Yes, it makes people laugh but inside, believe me, no one is laughing. Streaking was a fad in the ’80s. Period.

5. You are not cool on your jet ski: Just because people happen to be on the beach does not mean they have gathered there especially to watch you do dumb stunts on your jet ski. People do not think you are cool, even on a jet ski. The faster you drive, and the more the girls on the back scream, the cooler you aren’t. The only person who thinks you are cool is — you.

6. Garbage: Since there are no public garbage cans, you must take your garbage home with you. If your garbage is separated nicely, however, we may, if we’re in a pleasant mood and you have been a charming customer, throw it away for you.

Other than the above mentioned, there are no rules on our beach! Just manners.

  • Rebekah Sillars

    Had a great time at the Moo bar, and it was lovely meeting you earlier this month!