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Saturday, Aug. 13, 2005

JAPAN LITE

Cheap old beaches become modern playgrounds for the rich


I hate to admit it, but our small island in the Seto Inland Sea is becoming a playground for the rich. Not long ago, the only people who came to Shiraishi Island were families looking for a cheap day out at the beach. And I mean cheap. They bring their own everything: food, drinks, beach chairs, parasols, tents and foldup picnic tables. And they bring all these things on the ferry.

News photo
Shiraishi Island at high summer: a blend of the modern and traditional.

And there is a whole "outdoor goods" market catering to these people and all 10 of their fingers. Outdoor goods companies encourage people to push the limits of the human body by designing more products that can be carried in each hand. Entire ranges of products have been invented to fit in the crook of the index finger, for example. Got a child in one hand and a cooler box in the other? No problem. A parasol can be carried on the index finger while a child's sand pail can dangle from your pinkie. Got an extra thumb? Our unique water bottle with handle will fit nicely there. Wanted to bring a tent and a foldup picnic table? No problem. Put the child on top of your shoulders to free up five more fingers and an armpit. Carry the tent in the left hand, the picnic table in the "E-Z carrying case" in the crook of the left index finger and stick a rollup vinyl sheet under the arm. Forgot the inflatable swimming ring? Just wear it.

After people get off the ferry at the island, they have to walk half a kilometer to the beach. There, they claim their own patch of beach and, already exhausted, set up for the day. But once the tent is up, the vinyl sheet is down and all plastic barriers are in place, they're soon enjoying nature just like the people shown on the outside of the tent box. "This tent was a great deal," they say. But within 30 minutes, the white tent has heated up to 40 degrees, the children are hiding in the cooler box with the beer, and everyone is saying, "Wow, it's hot!" Dad chases the kids out of the cooler box and the kids escape to the sea, never to be seen for the rest of the day. And when they come back, they're red. Damn, should have used that extra finger to carry the sunscreen!

It's no wonder the rich have abandoned the old schlepping days and opted for newer, more convenient outdoor goods, such as pleasure boats. These days, more and more people come to our island by private boat: 16-meter cruisers and 12-meter yachts. Some people even come by jet ski. As I watch the water skiers, banana boat riders and jet skis pass in front of the Moooo! Bar, I wonder if this isn't just the beginning of something big.

But nothing could change our traditional little island in this picturesque setting and our 400-year-old ways. Take the Shiraishi Bon Dance, performed during Bon to welcome back the spirits of the dead. The islanders practice this dance starting in kindergarten, and it becomes a way of life every August, dancing until the early hours of the morning.

Three years ago, they started performing the dance on the beach on Saturday evenings for tourists.

This year, I decided to go watch one of these performances and was glad to see many of my neighbors wearing traditional costume and ready to dance the way they had been doing their whole lives.

But once the dance started, something happened that I had never seen before. Hundreds of flashes came from tourist cameras, and they never stopped during the entire performance.

Today I watched as the last ferry left the island for the mainland. There were so many people, they could hardly all fit on. I half-expected to see men in white gloves pushing people onto the ferry like they do for overcrowded trains in Tokyo.

This is when it really hit me: our island has been discovered.

Visit Amy's One Dollar Bookstore at www.mooooshop.com


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