In the last post, I was a bit hard on Hakone, defining it narrowly by its chain restaurant highways and (expensive!) outlet mall. On Saturday morning, however, just as we were about to head to Kamakura, the weather turned sunny, and Mt. Fuji popped out of its cloudy cocoon to finally give us a taste of the city’s iconic scenery. As we rounded the corners of windy mountain roads, the bus would explode into cheers of “Wow!” everytime Fuji’s peak came into view. It’s fair to say that Hakone without Mt. Fuji is like Vegas with the casinos closed up.
We filmed road scenes during most of our voyage across Kanagawa to Kamakura. This project turned out to be “Japanese driving boot camp” for me. I was ostensibly hired for my background in bilingual journalism, but the Infiniti is literally the “vehicle” that drives the plot of the film along. So that meant many hours behind the wheel — through super highways, nauseating mountain roads, paths between rice patties, Kamakura one-lane backstreets overflowing with Sunday tourists, and Hayama beach roads full of classic cars. I learned the power of the hazard signal, which magically allows any driver in Japan to stop wherever he/she likes, even the middle of the street. I also became incredibly dependent upon the Infiniti’s side-view and back cameras, which were not a feature included in cars when I was growing up in Northwest Florida back in the late 20th century.
In Kamakura, we interviewed Abe Shape & Design‘s Hiroshi Abe — one of Japan’s first surfers. He and his friends, later chronicled in the fictional film Inamura Jane, basically invented surfing amongst themselves with only the smallest trickle of influence from the West. He made his first board in 1963 after seeing a photo of an American G.I. holding up a retro “log,” with the board length and width extrapolated from the height of the surfer.
Abe has been making boards ever since, now working with nationally-protected craftsmen in Aizu Mishima-cho, Fukushima to make surfboards out of kiri (paulownia) wood. The craftsmen first have to construct incredibly complicated hollow boxes with the wood, which Abe then shapes into luxurious longboards. They retail for at least ¥2,000,000, making them likely the most expensive in the world.
Like with Sano’s bikes, Abe says the wood actually has properties which make it well-suited for long-term usage on the waves. But in terms of aesthetics, Abe’s understated design, which emphasizes the original color of the wood, turns the board into objêt territory. My favorite detail was the fin where Abe created a herringbone pattern out of alternating natural wood grains.
The board is a good metaphor for the entire Shonan area — a mix of laid-back hippie beach culture, giant villas from wealth old money families, and world-famous historical destinations. Ever since Shintaro Ishihara’s controversial Taiyo no Kisetsu (Season of the Sun), the region has also represented a strong alternative to Tokyo’s over serious suited-up world of adult responsibility and capital accumulation. The beach is not just a weekend destination, but a locus for liberal values not usually associated with “Japan.” That being said, Ishihara is now governor of Tokyo, and Abe’s surfing lifestyle perfectly melds with the old Japanese craftsmen tradition. Shonan is no longer just the home for sun-kissed play but an integral part of Japan’s rich pop cultural tradition.