Gallery: The Land Of The Rising Sun
Gallery: The Land Of The Rising Sun
Most surfers - and Aussies in general - associate Japan with snow. Rightly so thanks to the bottomless powder delivered by way of Siberia.
Super typhoons rate a mention every year or so when targeting the southern prefectures, but for the most part, the fourth-largest archipelago in the world is largely overlooked by surfers.
Yet with swell-generating fetches able to provide surf to any coast at any time, not to mention being open to the Pacific Ocean, it's worth wondering why Japan is so often overlooked.
A major limiting factor is the ability to speak fluent Japanese, as English-speaking nationals are rare away from the major cities and tourist hotspots.
This is where I’m fortunate to have a partner from the Land of the Rising Sun, effectively eliminating any cultural barrier encountered whilst venturing further afield.
There’s also the aesthetics linked with a surf trip away from home. Idyllically it's somewhere warm, with clear water, white sand beaches, and maybe even vibrant coral reefs.
In general, Japan is at the opposite end of the scale: often being industrial, bleak, and akin to something out of a post-apocalyptic world. This isn’t to say you can’t find more aesthetically pleasing surroundings (the photo journal below will show as much) but for the most part, surfing near the population centres means you’ll be clambering over concrete to enter murky water rather than paddling off pristine beaches full of colour and life.
My first taste of the ocean was at Chiba, just up the road from where the Olympics were held. Carparks were packed with miniature vans thanks to it being Golden Week. Golden Week is a week where all public holidays for the year are bundled into one. It's the busiest week of the year both in the cities and rural regions.
You can’t miss the miniature board stools that every car has laid out at the back of. The purpose isn’t quite clear, with boards spanning each stool, to either dry out or be put on show. Meanwhile, the surf was small, windy, and busy. Surfers sat shoulder to shoulder in straight 1-2ft cross-shore surf, while a handful of more experienced boardriders battled it out next to a clump of tetrapods (large, three-dimensional blocks cast from concrete). This artificial point offered the best wave, though not enough to keep me entertained beyond a few waves before trying the lesser quality beach. Outside temperatures were warm and humid but the water chilly, likely around 15°C.
This initial surf was great to blow away the cobwebs from the flight the day before, though the target of the trip was the more regional island of Kyushu to the south.
Being angled more straight on to the Pacific Ocean, Kyushu is open to easterly trade-swells as well as more localised south and north-east fetches that sporadically come and go with passing frontal systems.
Our first surf on touch down was much more successful, with walled-up, semi-clean 2-3ft+ waves along with slightly warmer water. The surrounding scenes and sounds were surreal.
Surfing directly next to an airport runway is never going to be natural, but as light drizzle fell across the grayed out concrete landscape, loud explosions from air cannons broke the eerie silence every few minutes, presumably to scare off birds.
From the water, huge gas storage cylinders in the shape of bulbs framed the landscape as tetrapods lined the shore. The handful of surfers were all friendly, especially after offering a greeting and we then made our way north.
Away from the city, the landscape quickly becomes rural with rice paddies making up the majority of the flat spaces, mixed with forestry on the steeper hillsides. A more soothing feeling washes over when driving through the lush, green landscapes.
It’s also easy to get a feeling of exploration and adventure thanks to most of the coast being fairly accessible. It won’t be straightforward and you might end up in a maze of rice fields, but one advantage of all the concrete built along the shore is access to small, isolated car parks.
With the general surfing population sticking to the known breaks, anyone who’s savvy with the incoming swell direction, size, and local winds can find long stretches of empty, fun peaks. This was the case more often than not on our trip, making it all the more rewarding when venturing down tight, overgrown dirt tracks.
In between swell pulses we found time to get away to the mountains. Within an hour's drive of the coast is steep, stunning countryside. Maples blend with pine and cedar to create a collage of green, while deep gorges roared from tropical rains a couple of days earlier. Clean air left the higher reaches gin-clear.
The basalt geology seen along the coastline transitioned in one unique zone to a sheer, granite monolith. Such was the contrast of the landscape, along with the absence of any noticeable human footprint, that I’d have to say it was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever experienced.
Arriving back at the coast for a late surf, we were greeted by glassy, 2ft+ waves with not a soul to be seen in the water. I had a quick session before heading off for a much deserved feed.
Just a quick tangent regarding the cuisine. It’s delicious, wildly varied, and relatively cheap. Expect prices to be one-third to half those of Australia. There’s sushi, sashimi, ramen, noodles, tempura, chicken, pork and any variety of vegetable you can think of. Restaurants are mostly open late, well past sunset, so there’s no rush to race to get a feed in before closing time. You’ll be more than content after spending $15-20 AUD for dinner, $30 including a beer. One small issue was the amount of plastic used, from wrapping banana bunches, to individual chocolates already inside a package. While Japan's PET recycling system is one of the best in the world, the prolific use of softer plastics is startling.
Back to the surf, and with a good size, mid-period E/NE swell on the forecast under light winds, I had my eye on a few locations for the following days. The first a beachbreak setup that performed much like any other East Coast Australian beach, turning the oblique angled sets into fast running lefts with the odd, shorter, sharper right. I had a beautiful solo surf with hardly anyone in sight; one of many on this quiet, laid-back coast.
With one final day of surfing left in the trip, we headed south to the more rocky, fickle breaks. The setup is much like the Great Ocean Road, with the highway hugging the coast, giving plenty of glimpses at possible setups while rounding each corner.
I had a left in mind and after scoping a couple of almost-rights, we arrived just as the sun dropped below the mountains. The bay was empty with what looked to be some OK waves with a light onshore crumble. Then a set pushed in, bowling out along a rocky bay. It looked 3-4ft but on entering the water and reaching the take-off it was more 4-5ft. The wave had power and shape, hitting various ledges while bowling down the line. It was the second solo surf for the day, though only for thirty or so minutes before darkness enveloped the coastline.
Getting in on a fast rising tide with no keyhole and surging swell lines into the tetrapod-laced bay was the trickiest part of the whole surf, negotiated with a bit of luck just before losing all light.
We pushed further south the next day, aiming for a beachy to soak up the easing swell. The landscape was a contrast between country Hawaii and the Thailand's island coasts, with the sand also taking on a more golden complexion. The local surfers ripped and were the best witnessed on the whole trip, more than welcoming and stoked to see a gaijin surfing amongst them.
May isn’t a classic time of year to chase surf across Japan, but with the right quiver and expectations, there are waves a plenty to discover, not forgetting the local cuisine and culture.
Great set of shots Craig, love seeing the travel aspect alongside the surf shots, really gives a feel for the place
Awesome, what's your camera setup craig?
Thanks Pittsy, I've got a 7D MkII with a 70-200 F4, 50mm 1.8 and 17-40mm.
great read and pics Craig, that day hiking sounds awesome..
this makes the trip a tax deduction, right?
tbh I like these kind of travel write ups the best of all of Swellnet's surf content, cheers for taking us there Craig. Are these spots you surf Zen?
And did you find 2L tinnies in vending machines (significant discovery at 15), or pachinko parlours Craig?
The places that vending machines popped up astounded me. Like they must be running power into the middle of a field, just for the vending machine haha.
One day there will be a vending machine apocalypse when the AI kicks in.
Saw a few Pachinko parlours, they looks super sketchy eh, never been into one.
Lots of vending machines! Pachinko was pretty fun, the father of my host family told them all westerners look young, so I got in and I remember all the mirrors , lights and it was kind of like slot machines iirc. Are they sketchy now? We were nearly beat up by punks in Osaka as they thought we were Americans. We were Australian, so they shouted us to an afternoon of video games, these Japanese punk guys with bright coloured araldites and leather jackets and police riot boots...
Apparently you can get things like battling beetles (to battle your mates' beetles) in vending machines?
Anyway: to add to thread, this is a beautiful twitter account:
Seeing as you guys are talking about climbing Fuji-San and waiting for the clouds to clear in the thread:
Sensational, Craig. Looks like a great trip.
I always liked seeing the vans in surf carparks in Japan. It seemed like everything had a spot, coat hanger for the wetty, portable shower etc etc. Very organised, very tidy.
Yes, very organised and the portable buckets/showers for the post surf wash seem a must with not many places set up with showers in the car parks.
Need to organise a Japan snow and surf trip for the SA expats one day. Amazing country.
Great shots and story Craigos.
What... don't they have hot water bottles?
Yep, they've got hot water especially in the colder seasons. Zen knows all about it.
Yep, it's a complete scene to have all the gear, and then generally they get in the water and have no idea. That's mainly from Ichinomiya down to Chiba though, the further south you get, the better the waves and surfers will be.
I'm coming up on almost 20 years of exploration over there and still have so many waves to find, glad you enjoyed it mate.
Very interesting, and tons of surf stores eh!
Nice write-up Craig. You captured Japan well.
Long way from me VJ. I’m in northern Ibaraki close to Fukushima.
There are plenty of waves in Japan and the vibe in the water is usually pretty welcoming if you bring your manners. Amazing food culture too and cheap. Alcohol is very cheap too. Women are smoking hot but as I've said before, they aren't easy, you gotta put in the time and do the dance.
Finally- have you heard about the snow here? It's pretty good.
Thanks Zen, have to catch you next time!
The place is amazing...everything about Japan is amazing.
Where in Kyushu did you surf?
ps.. Shikoku is as amazing as Kyushu
Did I mention Japan is amazing?
Most of that east-facing stretch of coast that runs the length of the island. Setups galore.
Looks epic to me.
Bring me back any fancy Japanese sea bass lures Craig, by any chance?
Added to the list for next time!
Gotta say I was looking forward to the Broko-san travel write up and it's a ripper thanks
Ha, thanks SL.
looks nice but I'd be packing a geiger counter
might be why it was uncrowded, not great not terrible hahaha
Nice one Craig, lovely shots. We fly home from Haneda tonight, nearly 4 weeks traipsing around. No waves for me but lots of hiking in the mountains, easily accessed even when based in the main tourist centres. Really busy in the towns and at the stations, but then turn a corner and you feel like you have stepped into another world. Generally had gorgeous spring weather but pack a good raincoat folks. Off to Lebongan and the Bukit next week for 3 weeks to make up for the lack of waves here. Gotta love LSL.
Yeah we had that rain event two weekends ago, was heavy but then to see it passing while in the mountains that evening, stars popping and waking to blue bird skies was so nice. Enjoy Indo!
Excellent photos and words, as always. Thanks for sharing.
Watashi wa itsumo nihonjin to sono bunka ga daisukideshita. Aru Ni~Tsu, watashi wa otozuremasu.
Thanks WOTL, yes get back there!
Very nice, Craig.
Missus and I miss Japan. Would love to go back for more ski touring, whisky drinking in small bars, good food, etc. Oh, and the surf on Amami Oshima looks good.
Thanks IB, yes all of the above!
Epic Craig....beautiful photos....on my bucket list. My Mrs is Korean and it sure does help when travelling there. Have been to a couple of the more well known surf spots near Busan and Yang Yang but yet to score anything decent. There is a big surf culture there now - but it's just so damn cold in winter which is when you get the decent size swells
Nice! Yeah the water was still quite cold around Chiba, so couldn't imagine winter or up around Zen, but the further south we went, the warmer and more pleasing it got.
Great write up of your trip mate. Beautiful scenery, but geez those tetra-pods are ugly. Is that tsunami mitigation?
Mostly erosion control, it’s proven they are not that effective but have used shitloads of energy to manufacture them, ship them globally, as does anything made of concrete. Maldives received thousands of them as gift from Japan decades ago. 5% of the worlds energy consumption goes into making concrete.AW
Yeah in some areas is was for erosion control following a Typhoon in 2019 I think, and the locals tried to rally against it but to no avail. Since being installed, a big storm last year still did the erosion, easily getting over the concrete structures.
At one stage there was a big scandal about the tetrapods. Apparently there were kickbacks going back and forth between politicians and the big construction companies putting them in.
They were throwing them in everywhere even where they weren't needed and making tons of cash off the government purse.
Sometimes they result in good waves where they weren't, but the scale and porosity of them often doesn't produce good banks. So much coastline made to look like industrial wasteland.
Nice report Craig, I've had fun trips in Wakayama, Shikoku and out to Niijima. Also some snowy waves in the sea of Japan.
Don't even get me started Yendor. The whole industry is built on bribes, kick-backs, corruption at the highest level, cronyism and nepotism.
The coastline was divided up years ago to mostly Yakuza based construction companies with pollies, councillors and company directors with their fingers in the pie every step of the way. It is a sham, a disgrace and the coast of Japan has been irreversibly ruined beyond salvage.
About five years ago in my area the last remaining natural beach was tetrapodded and walled off under the auspices of erosion control and coastal fortification. Supposedly to protect the inland. There was nothing there to protect (except the forest). The fuckers bulldozed down the forest and last remnant of coastal heath to get the heavy equipment in. Then they left it. No remediation at all.
Now the beach has eroded away, the forest is gone and It's just another fucking Japanese coastal wasteland.
Zenagain - well said - in my opinion this is the worst thing about Japan - the inability for locals to say "NO" to the usually corrupt unscientific/illegal practices that the big corporations and their "connections" often get away with - which has in turn destroyed most of their coastal zones, under the guide of "protecting the fishing fleet".
It will be interesting to see what happens with erosion up/down stream from the Rikuzentakata project -that is a massive amount of concrete.
You had some good early swell last week on that coast, Hebara looked the goods, hopefully your turn for waves this summer/Autumn.
Lots of waves up north too. Winter is epic but you gotta be prepared and you need really good gear.
If you get up Ibaraki way, drop me a line via Swellnet.
So sorry to hear that Zen, the general public doesn't get much say about that sort of shit in Japan. Like some throwback to the feudal past. It's a shame there doesn't seem to be much which can be done to stop the juggernaut.
Same thing happened on Madeira. Local govt, the main concrete producer, and the Island governor got together and stuck their noses into the EU structural funds. Lots of good new roads, but also some coastal calamities.
Kiwi version of the Japan van park-up:
Probably a sheep in a dog mask!
That Mt fugi shot is a cracker! With the cloud formations. Did it look better in black and white? Wouldn't mind seeing the colour one.
Cheers, yeah I thought the B&W treatment was a lot better.
There's another portrait version that I like..
Lucky boy, Fuji san was in hiding for us apart from the drive by...
In the early 80 s I struggled with Japanese surfing in Oz
I thought about WWII
Now I am glad they rip
My father was English and my mother was German
My father won at Caen - read about it.
I am proud to be a Manly born lad.
I became a westy, now a north coaster,
Life is good.
Great pics and read.
I took some time to soak all that in.
Always wanted to go there and it's still on the bucket list.
You're pretty handy with a camera Craig. Impressive.
Love the rocky creek/river shots. After seeing previous shots of yours you seem to have them down pat.
Thanks TS, I didn't spend too much time with the camera near the ocean, but have some cracking mountain shots. Will put in the photos thread during the week.
Awesome! Brings back memories. There are a bunch of public holidays aside from golden week though
Oh I see! Looks like Golden Week is the busiest of them all but eh?
And probs the worst to surf. Water still cold, little swell, persistent onshores.
You did well.
There is a Silver Week too; more chance of getting a typhoon swell around that time
Yeah that's probably right. New years is big too but it's more of a family thing and people travel less (I think).
I lived in Osaka and in my time there I scored better in the sea of Japan than the Pacific. But the food and onsens make a trip worthwhile on their own :)
Nice one, Tooold2bakook. Osaka is a great place
Yep, Osaka is rad good to hear you scored on the other side too, it's on my list.
Great write up Craig.
Tip for those traveling without knowing the language: locals are pretty clued in to using google translate (voice-to-text or voice-to-voice). Had plenty of language-barrier-breaking conversations with the mobile as intermediary when there in 2019, in rural/remote areas too.
Also, the draft beers are fantastic. Nitro instead of Co2 I think.
Did you get to see the cherry blossoms, or too late that far south?
Missed them by a week unfortunately. My partner got to see them though, and wow, they look incredible.
Yeah they really are something!
Japan has some amazing trails and hiking...very much a bit of a hidden secret.
More hiking pics if you have any, Craig.
Yep will put them in the 'Show us your photos' forum thread.
A nice one of Fujisan I took a few years ago. Yamanashi aspect.
I recommend climbing it.
Did you ski it, zen?
I've mind-boarded it many times VJ.
John, myself and two others did it in 6 hours flat leaving the 5th station right on 10pm. Timed it perfectly and got the perfect sunrise. I forgot my gloves but luckily used the spare socks I always take when trekking.
It's not an easy climb.
Ps- I had to convince a group of Japanese chicks up there that I definitely wasn't Kevin Costner. I'll take that ha ha!
"Why yes I am ladies, and I even have a jetski. Would you like to see it?"
Epic place Japan. I managed to climb it. 6-7 hours to the top only to be hit by a snow/ice storm and not see a thing from the top. Holed up in one of the huts for half an hr with a cup of Miso until we had to get back down. 3 or so hours down and get back to the to town we were staying at only for the clouds to clear and Fuji stand out in all its glory. Bloody mission of a Trek
That's a story for ya name's sake. Ha!
Just want to add this for all round Japanese awesomeness:
Lived and surfed the area of the cover shot throughout the late 80s and 90s…only a few dedicated locals then but now has experienced an influx of surfers similar to the rural areas of the east coast of Oz. Good point you make about them sticking to the better known breaks leaving vast stretches of coastline to be understood by those with the time and curiosity.
Wow, it would have been very quiet and much more country back then as well I'm imagining?
Regarding typhoon swells, it looks like there are a few setups that could come to life with bigger swells, but also it looks like the rocky bays along with blocking offshore reefs would make it quite fickle trying to find a decent spot handling the size. Does this sound correct?
You are right.Even the name spots were uncrowded especially when a little size showed.Beaches were also much wider with sand.....same erosion issues.as Wamberal.Collaroy etc...
Typhoon course and speed determine which reefs will work or not and for how long.There is an ideal course and distance from swell source for each spot.Theoretically you can chase a swell for way more than a week around the islands if the course is favourable.Yes it is fickle but the locals have it totally wired especially in the age of modern communication. Crowds have increased as a result. Many spots may only break a few times a year with quality.
One of the highlights of my year in Hokkaido was watching surfers in the snow, halfway between Sapporo and Hakodate. Minus three degrees that day, reasonable waves, intercity trains right on the coast, idling vans, ramen shack.
A couple of my mates have surfed during winter up there, would be soo cold! But good on them, keen!
Awesome trip Craig you get to experience a country not just the surf (ie. Mentawis). Fun for the other half as well.
Thanks Memla, she got some cracking waves as well!
That was just bloody delightful.