Friday, August 14, 2009

Summer Memories

- From Seto Inland Sea to Nishinagato Beach Resort -

1. Seto Inland Sea

I was raised by the Seto Inland Sea. In summer, I swam almost every day at Asakawa Beach in west suburban Imabari, the city where I was born. No goggles. No ear plugs. White sands and a placid sea. I was pretty good at fishing multicolorfin rainbowfish (halichoeres poecilopterus), a small sand fish of about 6 inches or l5 centimeters. It is said that the fish sleep in a sand bed. Upon wakening, the fish brush aside the sand and hunt for a breakfast of nereis (worms). If you are fishing for them, there is a faint tug and that's the moment you have to pull on the fishing line or it eats the bait line with its saw-shaped teeth and escapes. This is the fish that can switch from female to male as they grow. Their color changes from red to blue. I learned later that they are polygamous. It is a very tasty fish when baked on a charcoal fire. Another memory is scooping crabs as they are coming ashore to lay eggs and mating under moonlight. Dad, my two younger brothers and I caught 5 bucketfuls of crabs. This was on the sandy beach east of Imabari, an experience similar to the one I encountered during a Grunion run in California described later on.

I never imagined that Shikoku Island would be connected with Chugoku (the part of mainland Japan facing us across the Seto Inland Sea) by a series of bridges, eliminating all the ferries that thrived once in my day. It is called the Shimanami Sea Route that spans 80 kilometers. The shuttle bus runs every hour on the hour between Imabari and Fukuyama, a traffic innovation of the century.

2. Sagamore (Oyster) Bay / Jones Beach, Long Island, NY

We took our children to swim at either Oyster Bay or Jones Beach when we lived in Long Island. We were young, go-getters. Because of my work, I was unable to go fishing with my son, but he was happy to go out fishing with our retired neighbors. They drove to Montaulk Point more than once and brought back lots of porgies. Even my dad didn't bring home that many porgies at one time. Today I saw sadly the following warning on the Long Island Web site:

"Long Island's Beaches Are Unsafe for Swimming. If you live on Long Island, don't bother going to the beach for a swim over the next couple of days. Almost all the beaches are closed, which is what health departments are forced to do after a big rain storm, because our streets are so dirty and our sewers are so riddled with holes that storm-water is too dangerous to swim in."

3. La Jolla Shores / Mission Bay, San Diego, CA

My wife says that the most memorable beach to her was La Jolla Shores. She and our daughter would sit and wait in the evening until the golden red and purple sky succumbed and the setting sun sparked the last blinking lights of green and dipped into the horizon. It is a most peaceful vision.

Unforgettable to me while living in San Diego was the grunion run I encountered, similar to the crab catch in the Seto Inland Sea. I've heard that many people would listen to the radio forecast to find out when the grunion would run and where. They have to be well prepared to run and be on the spot to catch them. There are two species of grunion. First, the California grunion, and the other, the Gulf grunion. Both are sardine-sized fish and are found only off the coast of California and Baja California, Mexico.

Grunions are known for their very unusual mating ritual. At very high tides the females come up onto the sandy beach and dig their tails into the sand to lay their eggs. A group of males then wrap themselves around the female to deposit their sperm. For the next ten days the grunion eggs remain hidden in the sand, and at the next set of high tides, the eggs hatch and the young grunions are washed out to sea.

One night during the '80s, we were entertaining guests from Japan in a North County restaurant facing the ocean. About the time we finished dinner and were ready to leave, we saw a grunion invasion right before our eyes. We were the first that noticed it happening and we all went out barefoot to scoop up the small fish. A flock of sea gulls dove down overhead to feast. It happened so quickly that the fish were gone by the time a group of catchers arrived.

Two things I remember well on the sportsfishing boat off San Diego and Coronado Island. We caught salmon! The proof that the cold current comes down to Southern Cal. Someone brought a brand new Motorola Micro-Tac phone and surprised all the fishermen on board chatting with friends on land. It is nothing new these days, but that's the way it was back then.

4. Hermosa Beach / Portuguese Bend (Rancho Palos Verdes), CA

I met U.S. Air Force Captain Armour stationed in FEMCOM Air Base in Tachikawa, Tokyo and came to know his wife and children. They are a wonderful American family. I had frequent trips to the West Coast while living in New York to meet with the Armours in Los Angeles.

One day, they took me to Hermosa Beach and I rushed into the water. "Ouch!" After a few strokes, something invisible hit me in the water and I suffered acute pain. My lower body got swollen and left a red stripe upon my skin. Then I went totally numb. I was ambushed and stung by a monster jelly fish. Captain Armour mentioned that it may have been be a Portuguese Man-of-War, the name derived from a Portuguese war ship of the 15th century. Urine is commonly used as a first-aid remedy and I jumped into the men's room immediately. Ever since, I have opted for swimming in a pool, abandoning ocean swimming.

There's a place called Portuguese Bend in Palos Verdes, near the famous all-glass Wayfarers Chapel designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright. I somehow associate these two Portuguese words. A Google search revealed that Portuguese Bend means "green stick", by which I interpret (I may be wrong) green stick fishing method, popular among the Japanese fishermen.

5. Morro Rock, San Luis Obispo, CA

Heading north from Santa Barabara, Goleta and the awesome Gaviota Pass, you pass Nipomo and Pismo, known for clam beaches, and then enter San Luis Obispo, acronymed as SLO, where people enjoy a slow life, or sometimes referred to as the good life. The destination of my first trip was not SLO but San Simenon, although I later found out they are both located in the same county. San Simenon is where one of the richest men in the world built his castle. His name was William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper king. My wife and I were then accompanied by my daughter's family.

As we exited 101 and took old Route l, I was immediately charmed with the chain of volcanic "plug dome" peaks, the unique step-stone volcanic formation. They make up such unforgettable picturesque view that I got hooked on them and I knew I'd be returning again and again. Local people call these peaks "7" or "9" peaks, depending on how many of the peaks are included in the count. Whatever the count is, it is a looming sentinel guard isle, known as Morro Rock. In 1542, a Portuguese navigator Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo, called it "El Morro", as it resembled the turbaned head of the Moor. "El Morro" replaced the Chumash word "lisamu" meaning a shrine on the coast. I can only visualize how Morro Rock looked originally, because photographs of the isle were only available after the 1890s. The isle became the main source of quarry for sea transportation. What we see today should be 581 ft or 177 meters in height, but is now a wrecked isle after centuries of quarrying to provide materials to construct breakwaters. The practice was finally called off when the U.S. Congress listed it as a State Landmark. However, the isle still stands firm in magnificent shape and color, attracting visitors, such as myself, a foreigner from Japan. Today, the area is a sanctuary and the serene bay view - with sand dunes, rows of anchoring yachts and boats - is unbeatable when compared to other marinas.

6. Nishinagato Resort Beach

Upon our return to Japan from the U.S., we sold our house in Tokyo and relocated to Kitakyushu. Kiyoko, my wife's sister, took us to the Kanmon Strait lookout where we enjoyed watching large boats cruising the narrow strait of one kilometer under the Kanmon Bridge. Moji Port nearby reminds us at night, of San Diego Harbor, as we see Shimonoseki well-lit across the strait. In San Diego, you'd see naval vessels instead, sometimes even an aircraft carrier such as the Kitty Hawk.

Kiyoko also gave us rides to nice beaches here and there in Kyushu, but whenever we had the chance, we returned to Nishinagato Resort Beach. It takes 2-1/2 hours to get to crossing the Kanmon Strait and driving up on the Japan Sea side of the very southern end of mainland Japan. This is our 10th year anniversary living in Kyushu and we have made more than a dozen visits, including our Golden Wedding Anniversary last year. We have taken our son from New York as well as our granddaughter from Santa Barbara and they both just loved that beach. There is a small island called Tsuno-(horn) Shima in front which protects the Nishinagato Beach from the outer Genkai Ocean, from the sometimes fierce winds and waves from Siberia. A bridge was built seven years ago and crossing it feels like driving over the Chesapeake Bay. The color of the ocean is emerald green and gorgeous. I can only compare it to Nago Beach of Okinawa or the Phuket Island beaches facing Andaman Sea. You see nothing but the wide-angled open sea from the Resort Hotel and the hot springs of the hotel.

These are the Summer Memories I treasure.

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