Walking along the Yuigahama beach in Kamakura City on the edge of the Pacific Ocean I saw this couple having fun with some sparklers. It looked fun and romantic. Fireworks are very popular in Japan and an integral part of Japanese culture. Unfortunately there are very few places for people to enjoy them safely in the crowded cities of Japan. But the beach will always do nicely.
Since for the last few days at Yuigahama, the famous Pacific Ocean beach just on the edge of Kamakura city to the south west of Tokyo, there’s been a rather unusual algal bloom, a phenomena known as akashio (赤潮) in Japan and often called “red tide” in English. It is a natural occurring phenomena when concentrations in plankton grow rapidly and has nothing to do with tide nor is it often very red. Sometimes these algal blooms are associated with a kind of plankton that can glow with a bluish light in the dark but there hasn’t been any reported bioluminescence so far this time at Yuigahama, although I have heard that there were some two nights ago in Enoshima, further down the coast to the west of Kamakura but I am not sure how correct those observations were. If you live in the area, tonight might be the best night of the year for a midnight walk along the beach!
I was a little disappointed with bloom, as it looks a little bit and could be poisonous I was in no mood for swimming so instead I decided to head as far as possible to the east along the beach. I got quite far when another very interesting natural phenomena occured, a kaimu, or ocean mist. For a few minutes there were white wisps of smoke blowing in over the water, as if there were many small fires further out in the ocean. The sun was still blazing though, but in a few minutes a thick wall of mist rolled in from the ocean, completely obscuring the sun and turning midday into early evening in a few minutes. It reminded me of the solar eclipse we had a couple of years ago. Visibility was very bad in mist and the water level rose very quickly, which sent quite a few beach goers scrambling to get their stuff out of the rising water. The silence was also erie, sounds being muffled and nothing much being visible. Quite an experience! The mist last about an hour but even as it passed it left a strangely muted sky much of it remained until nightfall, all over the city of Kamakura.
All in all, it was an interesting day at the beach. I tried to look out for dead marine life but didn’t find anything out of the ordinary, the odd dried up blowfish or carp. As I always do, I also gathered a full plastic bag of plastic garbage that had drifted in from the ocean or been blown out on the beach by careless beach goers. If everyone picked just one piece of garbage every time they visited a beach the world would be a cleaner place in no time!
One of the things that often puzzles foreigners experiencing Christmas in Japan for the first time is the tradition to eat chicken at Christmas. Although a lot of people think of it as a rather old tradition it actually only started in the mid-seventies of the last century. Born as a marketing ploy by the advertising agency hired by Ketucky Fried Chicken, the original marketing campaign was launched on December 1st, 1974. Until then, Christmas had been a culinary blank for the Japanese. There was no particular food waiting to be associated with the event and the time was ripe for something to fill that blank. KFC was still fresh in Japan, having only been around since 1970 when the first restaurant opened in Nagoya (it closed soon, after about a year and the building it was located in was torn down in 2005). Japanese economy was growing rapidly and the people who had until then eaten almost only seafood, rice and vegetables found themselves with the money for the first time ever to introduce a whole new kind of food: chicken (burgers, beef and pork would come later). The slogan of the campaign was simple, “chicken for Christmas” and it got picked up big time, especially by the generation that had been born after war and were eager for a more international lifestyle. When something becomes big in Japan it really becomes big and from the start there were long lines to order your chicken. Standard practice was to make pre-orders a couple of months in advance and pick up on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on the way home after work.
These days the tradition lives on more as nostalgia than as the hip thing to do. We have a generation that has grown up and started families of their own having never known a Christmas without chicken, so I do not think the tradition will die out. In the beginning it was associated with KFC and every restaurant in Japan had a special Santa outfit for the Colonel, including this one that I found in Kamakura City, the ancient capital city of Japan, south of Yokohama and Tokyo. These days almost all restaurants, mail order companies and convenience stores do the Christmas Chicken thing, so if the lines are too long at your local KFC you can always try the local convenience store.
Other things to do on Christmas if you are Japanese is to go on dates (in case you are still of dating age) or to eat strawberry and cream cake, if you are too young to date or too old to be bothered. Personally I do not celebrate Christmas so it will be just another day in the office for me!
Since emigrating to Japan I have learned to love the humble Japanese convenience store. These little beacons of light and civilization are everywhere in Japan, from the loneliest Okinawan island to the busiest Tokyo high rise. You can book tickets, pay bills, do your banking, pick up and send packages, buy cell phones, get your beer, order food, buy ready made lunch boxes or lottery tickets or just browse the huge numbers of magazines. Sometimes you can even borrow their restrooms. Some convenience stores have a seating area with free hot water pots. They are open 24 hours a day, usually never close and the staff is amazingly service minded. During the trouble up north in March and Aril 2011 the convenience stores were a lifeline: they had the most advanced distribution network in the country, a perfectly streamlined inventory system and were able to get fresh food into the damaged areas before anyone else. Over a thousand convenience stores had to close due to the earthquake and Seven-Eleven alone saw 41 factories unable to operate. But they had 128 others spread out around the country that could pick up and keep supplies and food streaming into the damaged areas. For me the convenience stores of Japan are heroes, and I have quite a collection of these kind of “portraits” of lonely convenience stores at dusk or sunset.
I took the photos of a Lawson and Three-F store just next to Yuighama beach in Kamakura City, south of Tokyo.