Saturday, August 8, 2009

Oh! Yakuza!

These two photos at the right: Top Wakimisaki, Yakuza Beach. Bottom: Miyazaki Public Beach. Which place would you like to surf at?

Neither Natalia nor I really knew anything about Japan before we moved there. Natalia had applied to a few universities that offered degrees in architecture. She was accepted at the Nagasaki Institute of Applied Sciences.

I contacted an organization that I knew about that had facilities all over the world. They had a center in Nagasaki that needed a caretaker.

When we arrived in Nagasaki we met my contact person and she drove us to the Center.

Natalia and I surf. We looked up the local surfing spots and the closest one to us had an interesting notation: ‘Locals not friendly’. This was an English translation. We had come across such references in the past in surfing guides and had deduced that the spot was regarded by the locals as theirs. Don’t just go and barge in and act like you own the place. Respect the locals and be friendly. This had worked in the past for us and we had actually gotten along with surfers there.

So we went to Wakimisaki Beach in Nomozaki. It’s like 30 to 40 minutes south of Nagasaki. When we went there the first time the surf was flat. No swell. But you could see that the place had the potential to be a good surfing spot and other than the ‘locals’ condition, the reviews looked very favorable.

As we had arrived in Japan in the spring there was surfing on the East Coasts of the Japan islands. We drove there on the weekends to find hoards of surfers at every location. Surfing is Japan is very popular. We joined the crowds. Every surfing spot was over full of surfers. I had never seen so many surfers. At first light, the beaches were full of surfers paddling out. Oh well!

As spring became summer we saw on the Pacific Ocean wave website our first surf at Wakimisaki. Knowing that it would be totally crowded we arrived at the break of day and pulled into the beach parking lot to see really cool waves. But something was totally wrong with this picture. Nobody was out. Not even a car in the parking lot. We looked at each other and stood there together in the empty parking lot with these really cool waves breaking and wondered, ‘What?’ Are we in some kind of time warp? Are we still in Japan?

Neither Natalia nor I like to go surfing at a place that we have never been before without, you know, watching someone surf the place. You never know, there could be something about the place that is dangerous. We stood there and watched the waves. As we had been there before when it was flat, with no waves, we had seen it pretty clearly. After standing there and watching it, we said, let’s go check it out. So we did.

We were surfing and still nobody there. The waves were good.

A car of surfers arrive and they are standing next to their car and getting their surf boards. It is not long before they are out with us and they start talking to us in Japanese. I do not speak Japanese. Natalia does. She says that they do not want us here. I could tell that they were not happy. Anyway, we just sort of stay out of their way and catch waves that they could not.
Then it dawned on us, as we get a closer look at them, they are tattooed. They are Yakuza. The Japanese Mafia. Oh! That is what, ‘Locals not friendly means!’

So those days we just kind of hang around the surf spot and surf waves they could not. Another car or two arrives and they come out surfing. They are also Yakuza. They tell us to leave but we ignore them and act like we do not understand Japanese which is my case was true.

So here was an interesting situation. This was a Yakuza only Surfing spot and here were two gaijin surfers. One, a guy in his 50’s and the other a girl. These gaijin did not seem to know Japanese.

This swell lasted for a week and we went there and surfed like this with them telling us to leave in Japanese and us ignoring them and basically staying out of their way.

This whole summer was like this. 7 or 8 Yakuza surfers and two gaijins. They always told us to leave. We ignored them and stayed out of their way.

We occasionally would go to another surfing spot and again the situation was hopeless. Hundreds of surfers at every spot. What were we thinking? We would go back to Wakimisaki and surf some waves with the 5 to 8 Yakuza, get yelled at but at least have some waves. Far more waves than at any other place in Japan.

Every once and awhile another surfer or a couple of surfers would arrive and they would be told by the Yakuza to leave and they would. I asked Natalia what the Yakuza had told them. She said that it was interesting. The Yakuza would just tell them, ‘Excuse me, but you can not surf here. You must leave.’ The other surfers would look at them, occasionally one might say, ‘Please!’ and the Yakuza would say, ‘You should leave.’

The next summer was the same. The Yakuza would tell us to leave. We acted like we did not understand and kept out of their way and caught a few waves.

Then something happened that I would not have believed. It was summer and the schools were out. It was a stormy day and the waves were more suitable to body surf or surfing with a boogie board as the wind was on shore. The waves were about 4 to 6 feet. Natalia and I had fins and were sharing; taking turns with a boogie board. College students were there at Wakimisaki and they were wading and swimming. Suddenly a person from the beach was calling out to us, ‘Excuse me! Excuse me! Can you help my friend?’ Natalia and I looked over in the direction of which he was pointing and about 100 feet from us was a Japanese young guy. His head was bobbing just at waters level. We took off to him. He was just conscious. We got him on the boogie board and put the arm leash on his wrist. We let him recover a little and then Natalia told him that we were going to take him in through the breakers to the beach. He nodded that he understood. We got him in and his friends came to us and helped him up on the beach. He could not but barely stand. We guessed that he had been caught in the current running along the beach and got swept off of his feet. It happens all the time to unsuspecting people who are not familiar with the ocean.

Anyway, Natalia and I go sit on the beach and watch the guy recover.

But here is the thing that surprised me. Suddenly out of no where a couple of the Yakuza guys who had obviously seen this come over to us. They say, according to Natalia, that what we have done is something very honorable.

From that day forward, Robert and Natalia were surfing buddies with the Yakuza. They greeted us each time they saw us as we greeted them. We surfed with them. They just included us as part of them. In the mean time, other surfers would occasionally show up at Wakimisaki only to be told by the Yakuza, ‘You can not surf here. You should leave.’

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