Another beautiful Monday morning, another trip to the sea. I have always felt drawn to the ocean since I was a little boy.
My family emigrated to Australia when I was 5 years old, and I still have clear memories of the voyage by ship that took us there. The Suez Canal was closed in those days, so our ship had to go via Cape Town in South Africa, before heading on to Perth and then, finally, our destination: Melbourne. Although my family only stayed in Australia for two years or so, that long sea journey of several weeks laid the foundation for my life-long love of the sea: its power and its beauty.
So, after a quick breakfast of donut and coffee, I headed south from Otori in the general direction of Wakayama, via Hineno, on the Hanwa line, to meet my friend, the penguin. I found my antarctic buddy staring wistfully at an advertising poster for Adventure World, in Shirahama.
After a short wait, we set off once more, and on arriving in Wakayama, we asked around for a connection that would take us on to Shirasaki Kaigan, an outcrop of limestone rock I had found on the internet.
Another 45 minutes later, after a lovely slow journey towards Shirahama, through the plum and cherry tree covered mountains, with the coast visible through the window on the right, we alighted, seemingly in a valley in the middle of nowhere, with mountains on either side.
From the station at Kii-Yura, it was a further 6 or 7 kilometres to the Ocean View Park, and we had been told we should take the bus.
However, the bus had just left and the next one wasn’t due for another hour, or more. The penguin, not being a natural athlete at the best of times, turned its beak up at the thought of a six km hike on a fish free stomach. So, not realising we were about to risk our lives, we jumped into the nearest taxi and told the driver where we wanted to go – he said it would take ten minutes: turned out to be ten minutes of white-knuckle fear!
As the road wound through the mountains, our driver decided that it would be an appropriate moment to make a phone call on his mobile phone. So, as he spoke to his wife about the important things in life, such as his bento lunch and what time he would be home, he seemed not to care that we were on the wrong side of the road, with big trucks coming towards us. Although my nervous laughter did nothing to warn him of impending collisions, this practised master of the Wacky Races somehow managed to deliver me relatively safely to my destination: the windiest place on earth.
Deciding it was time for some lunch, my friend and I entered the Ocean Park cafe a little reluctantly, as these restaurants in tourist places, in my experience, like service stations on the expressway, usually dish out the worst food in the world: an insult to any country’s cuisine. Besides a small group of dark-suited business men and a couple of leather-clad motorcyclists, the penguin and I were the only customers. As we waited for our lunch, my companion and I marveled at the howling wind outside the glass-walled restaurant while my penguin friend continued to go on and on about how we should have stopped at the small road-side sushi resatarant we had driven past in the taxi.
However, I have to say that we were both immensely impressed by the teshoku lunch set that was served up in this delightful place. My friend’s sashimi set arrived first, to an excited slapping of penguin arms, and I immediately wished that I had ordered it rather than the aji-karage I had plumped for. But when my dish arrived, my friend demanded half of it in exchange for a small piece of suzuki: I have to say that the deep-fried aji was fantastic, and the ponzu-based dipping sauce that it came with was the perfect accompaniment.
Having finished every scrap of food on our plates and paid a remarkably low bill, we decided it was time to move outside and explore. You cannot believe how windy it was. I tried several times to stand on a bench to take a photo of the beach below, but each time I was blown off balance: incredible!
We walked down to the shore and were amazed by the strong colours of the ocean and the waves as they hit the shore. The day was clear and we could see easily across to Awajishima, with the Akashi suspension bridge in the far distance, as the cold wind seemed to tear at the skin on our faces, leaving me more pink than usual.
Suddenly, although there didn’t seem to be anything around except the wind, the rocks and the ocean, I thought I heard some loud music. I left the penguin sitting on a rock contemplating ocean life, and went to find the source of these unexpected sounds. As I walked up the rocks and into a large clearing, which may have been some kind of quarry at some time, I found myself looking upon a strange and unexpected sight: five purple and black-haired guys with matching clothes and make-up all over their faces, prancing around on the limestone rocks. A mobile film crew were filming the action and heavy metal music was blaring out of the back of a white van.
After taking a few secret photos, I approached the film crew and spoke to the man who seemed to be in charge.
“What’s all this?” I shouted in Japanese, trying to make myself heard above the swirling wind and the shrieks of the music.
“An indie rock band,” he shouted back.
“What are they called?” I enquired.
The guy paused for a short while, seemed he had forgotten, tried to remember, and then he said cautiously,
“Chariots. Yeah … Chariots!”
Smiling, he then asked me where I was from, and we chatted a little before he had to go off and set up some mics.
The penguin finally caught me up, having decided against a bit of impromptu fishing. We said goodbye to the shivering crew and went on our way, still wondering what the hell these guys, Chariots, were doing out here on the windiest day the world has ever seen, freezing in the shadow of the impressive limestone crag called Shirasaki.
Feeling the need to burn off a few calories after our seafood feast, and with two hours before the train back to Wakayama, we decided to battle the wind and walk the 6 or 7 km along the limestone coast back to Kii-Yura station.
The wind continued to blow a gale, and the waves crashing into the sea walls were enormous, causing great spray that the wind carried up and into our faces: while the penguin seemed comfortable with this, I was just becoming pinker and pinker! Suddenly, we caught sight of a fisherman risking death perched on a rock above the crashing waves, my black and white companion became quite excited when, as we watched, he pulled a great silver fish out of the icy blue water below. “Dinner time?” Penguin said, looking at me inquisitively.
I dragged the penguin away, and we set off along the coast following the winding road at the base of the tree-covered rocky cliffs.
Before long we came to the village and we bought some of the cheapest yet tastiest oranges I have ever eaten, 100¥ for a large bag.
As we walked past the village harbour, I noticed the fishing nets on the floor, drying in the open air. Incredibly, they reminded me clearly of the clothes that the Chariots had been wearing for their limestone performance.
Village life is so different from the city. We passed a bus stop that had a few chairs in it, it seemed more like somebosy’s kitchen that a place to wait for public transport. Then, as we left the villae behind us, I noticed another small wooden structure that looked like some kind of simple altar. There were some oranges and some kabura on the table, and a wooden box with 100¥ written on it, which is where I guess people pay.
Such trust! I can’t imagine that happening in the big bad city. We wandered up and down the hills, marveling at the plum trees in early bloom, and the daffodils that lined the road. Away from the sea, it didn’t seem so windy, and it almost felt as if spring had arrived.
We arrived back at the station, and found our taxi driver waiting at the wheel of his cab outside the little station. As soon as he saw us, he nodded and picked up his mobile phone and started shouting into the handset, something about a pink-faced man and a 160 cm penguin. I told you he was mad!