Japan has an abundance of accessible coast line which can be a huge draw to spending time there for anyone who enjoys being in and around the ocean. I personally enjoy surfing, and although I just said there was an abundance of coast line I spent a majority of time at one spot, Kawarago Beach. Kawarago Beach was just a 25 minute bike ride from the school and even shorter trip from my homestay family’s house. It was at this beach that I spend a majority of my free time, it did not feel like a proper weekend if I did not spend at least a couple of hours at Kawarago Beach.
At Kawarago Beach there was a small surf shop just next to the parking lot, it is called “Mizuki Surf”. The shop is owned by a man named Bonji who is there almost every day. Bonji is an incredibly friendly and welcoming man. It was through Bonji I was able to meet a whole community of surfers who would frequent Kawarago Beach, not only to surf, but also spend time with each other. Whether they were all relaxing in their beach chairs set up in the parking lot or an actual organized event, Kawarago beach was always busy on the weekends.
The most common organized event was a beach cleanup and board demo. This event would happen about once every three weeks and became less frequent as the weather become colder in late November and December. On the beach cleanup days, many people would come to Kawarago Beach right after breakfast. Many would come to surf, but also many people brought their entire families who would come to also catch up with their friends and then all participate in the cleanup which would always be right around lunch time. It seemed to be ran by Bonji and a few of his friends as they would gather the crowd and pass out a variety of tools and bags to make the cleanup a little bit easier.
As nice as it was to participate in the cleanup and help keep the beach clean, my favorite part of these days is that Bonji’s friend Yuta would usually make his monthly trip to Kawarago. Yuta worked for a surfboard shaper out of Chiba. Because the beach cleanup would always draw quite a crowd, Yuta would make the multi hour drive in his van and bring a variety of beautifully hand shaped boards. He would then let friends or friends of Bonji demo these boards for free in hopes that some might fall in love with a board and purchase it. These boards were easily the nicest boards I had ever ridden and if I had the money to buy one I would have without a single regret.
Although a majority of people in this small surf community did not speak much English, they were all very friendly and always tried to make me feel as welcomed as possible. Being able to join in these special events and practice the little Japanese I knew added a lot of value to my time in Ibaraki and will always be a one of the most positive memories of my internship.
Before I started this internship, I had never even tried surfing. During my time as an intern, another intern who was a keen surfer and offered to teach me. We found a surf shop named ‘Mizuke Surf Shop’, which is on Kawarago Beach. To get to the surf shop from Omika Station, you must travel one stop on the train to Hitachitaga Station. From there it is a 20 minute walk to the beach. You will know you are near the beach when you see the burger shop named ‘Beach Burger 9’, take a left and you will arrive at the surf shop.
The surf shop is a unique place which is owned by an even more unique person named Bonji. If you are not very confident with Japanese, he will be able to speak enough English to you in order to understand what you need. I was able to rent a surfboard from him for only 10,000 yen for three months – which is a very good price. Especially as it allowed me to use a beginner board and when I became more confident I was able to upgrade to a slightly harder to use longboard, saving me a lot of money.
The waves on the beach are consistently good and the sun rises early in the morning so the beach is the perfect place to go to watch the sunrise (if you live in the apartments or with Sagawasan which are both close to the beach), while in the summer you would be able to go after school!
When it comes to learning, the method you use is up to you. You can learn for free from a friend or from a YouTube video – or you can pay Bonji for lessons (although I am not sure how much this would cost). If you were to get involved with the surfing down at the beach there is a great community to get involved with which would greatly supplement your internship.
I’m sure some people while in Japan would love to go to South Korea, so here’s a little guide/ what I did while I was here in ICU.
First off, flights to Seoul are extremely cheap and I would try my hand at Expedia to look for cheap flights. I found mine for less than $200 and I’m sure they’d be even cheaper ahead of time. My flight departed from Narita but there are several that depart from Haneda as well. ( Keep in mind that it does take around 3 hours to get to both airports so plan your flight accordingly ).
Now some may not be as fortunate as I, having a twin brother studying abroad at Yonsei University, but here are some recommendations. Firstly, a nice and relatively cheap hostel that my friend and I stayed at is the Seoul Grand Hostel EWHA Univ, which is conveniently located next to a train station and Yonsei. Secondly, I highly recommend buying the Korean equivalent of the SUICA card, the T card -which can be bought at any train station, used on buses, and fortunately the train system is much cheaper than Japan. Next, if you speak absolutely no Korean, English should get you by just fine and if anything, learn the basics of Korean I.e. thank you, this/that please, I can’t Korean, etc.
Now Google could help with food recommendations but my top recommendations are of course:
떡볶이 – toppoki
닭갈비 – takkarubi
산낙지 – live octopus
호떡 – hottok (Korean desert)
비빔밥 – bibimbap
불고기 – bulgogi
Sorry if my romanizations are horrible off and I’m 80% sure the Korean is right
Lastly, I did most of my shopping/ sightseeing in Hongdae which has many shops, great food, and nice free-entrance clubs for dancing and the like.
I hope this helps, enjoy your time in Japan and if you get the chance, Seoul!