Patchwork Yokohama
11. Aquatic Yokohama
by Pencil Louis
          Vince didn't believe  in  keeping  fit. He believed that man
          adapted naturally to  his  life  style and while it might be
          perfectly natural for  the  primeval  hunter to be lithe and
          lean, such a  physique  served  little purpose for an aging,
          balding English teacher  in  Tokyo.  The Japanese themselves
          illustrated the very point that body shape had to be related
          to life style,  Vince  firmly  believed.  How  else  was man
          expected  to  evolve.  Just  look  at  the  sumotori,  young
          sportsmen in their  prime, who needed enormous bellies to be
          successful in their  sport.  Stories  abounded of a sumotori
          called Kyokudozan, a  big man at 6 foot and 105 kilograms by
          anyone's reckoning, who  was  trying  desperately  to put on
          weight so that he could compete with the top-ranked rikishi.
          Then, look at  the  old  women  who  had worked planting and
          weeding in the  rice  paddies  all  their lives, now stooped
          into permanently inverted L's.

          Vince could think  of  countless  other jobs or sports where
          the activity dictated  the  physique  of  its  participants.
          Runners were inevitably  tall  and lean, weight lifters were
          notoriously stocky and  taxi drivers always had droopy eyes.
          Man's body adapted  to  his  conditions.  As  if he need any
          further proof of  this, the tiniest women in Tokyo, so small
          boned and refined,  usually  had  massive calves. Their legs
          could be short,  their  buttocks  and  thighs  lean, but the
          calves were another story completely.

          Vince pinched the  tautness  of his own lower legs and noted
          how over a thousand stairs a day up and down (he had counted
          828 alone between  home  and  work)  had  made them the only
          developed muscle in his entire body. The others he would use
          on this occasion  or  that, and maybe pay for their exertion
          with a day or two of stiffness afterwards.

          Connie was, however, of a different persuasion. She not only
          exercised on a  regular  basis, but believed it was fun. She
          was wise enough  never,  of  course, to do it when Vince was
          around and she  kept  her  Jane Fonda records well and truly
          out of sight  lest  Vince hurl them through the fourth story
          window of their apartment. Occasionally, she would remark:

          "Goodness, Vince. Aerobics  class  is  just  like going to a

          Vince, for his  part,  couldn't think of anything worse than
          going to a  disco.  But  there  was  one  particular form of
          exercise that he did enjoy and that was swimming. Right from
          the tingling sensation  he  always  had  at  the  thought of
          breaking the icy water to the joys of spending a minute plus
          under water. Vince  really  didn't like swimming itself, but
          he did love the sensation of water on his skin and the sheer
          joy of dive bombing his brother.

          If you are  a  secret  dive  bomber  at  heart,  a  Japanese
          swimming pool is  not for you. Most pools in the country are
          only open for  eight  weeks of the year at the outside, even
          if they are  heated. The temperatures can soar well into the
          thirties  and  the   humidity  can  get  to  100  %  but  no
          self-respecting pool attendant  will  open  his doors before
          21st. July. And  they  will  be  slammed  shut again dead on
          14th. September, although  everyone  well knows that the hot
          weather hangs on well into October.

          As well as  their  inaccessibility,  there  are strict rules
          against bombing and  besides  these pools are only at most a
          metre deep which  puts  the  thought  of any serious bombing
          quite out of  the  question.  Everyone had to wear a bathing
          cap, goggles and a fashion approved bathing suit. Often, you
          couldn't  go swimming  in  a  particular  pool  without  the
          special pool bathing costume and many pools didn't allow you
          to go swimming at all unless you had lessons. You could have
          swum the English  channel  and you were still required to go
          through an hour  or  so  of  instructor-based  training.  No
          doubt, they insisted Mark Spitz take lessons whenever he was
          in Japan.

          Vince only went swimming twice while he was in Japan. On the
          first occasion, he  joined Connie at the newly opened Minami
          Ward  Taikokan  which  boasted  one  basketball  court,  two
          volleyball courts, six  badminton  courts and eighteen table
          tennis tables, but  not  at the same time. It also had three
          swimming pools for different ages.

          Vince appeared from  the men's changing rooms looking, or so
          he thought, rather ridiculous in goggles and bathing cap. He
          could only see  through  the  goggles by closing one eye and
          tilting his head.  Through this one eye, he scanned the pool
          side for Connie  and  wondered  why  the children's pool was
          full of adults.

          The answer was  simple.  25  metres long, 13 metres wide and
          100 centimetres deep,  this  was  the  adult's  pool. Connie
          suddenly had Vince  by the arm and he could barely hear her,
          as if he  were  already  underwater,  say that they would do

          This turned out  to  be  an impossible task. They had gone a
          whole three metres  when  the  lifeguard  blew a whistle and
          everyone was ordered  to evacuate the pool. Vince waded over
          to the side and pulled himself out.

          "What's  all this  about?"  he  hissed  at  Connie  as  they
          shivered and dripped on the pool's edge.

          "Oh, it happens  every hour," Connie explained in a way that
          was  no  explanation   at  all.  "It's  sometimes  a  damned

          Vince looked at  his  wife and wondered if she were becoming
          more  Japanese  than   the  Japanese  themselves.  The  pool
          attendants were walking  up  and  down  scanning the waters.
          Vince peered in after them, wondering just what they were in
          fact looking for.  Dead  bodies?  Somebody's  lost  bathers?
          Pubic hair that  supposedly  clogged  up the drains? Maybe a
          telltale yellowish tinge,  evidence  that someone had pissed
          in the pool.

          After five minutes,  everyone was readmitted to the pool and
          Vince noted that  there  were  now  twice  as many bodies in
          there as there had been before. Try as he might, he couldn't
          swim more than  a  metre  and  a half without colliding with
          someone, usually a  young  woman  who  would  squeal,  as he
          plunged up out  of the water to discover that he had touched
          her  in an  uncompromising  place  like  the  elbow  or  the

          Vince couldn't have  been  totally  sure,  but he could have
          sworn that one girl had told him in frenzied Japanese:

          "Why don't you  molest  people  on  the train like everybody

          After two laps  of  this,  Vince  was  totally exhausted. He
          waded once again  to  the  sidelines  and  sat with his legs
          dangling in the water. He could see Connie doing a very good
          impression  of  Dawn   Fraser   with  people  on  all  sides
          scampering out of her wake as if she were the Bismarck.

          Then, Vince suddenly  realised  his  problem. Connie was the
          only person in  the swimming pool who was actually swimming.
          The others weren't  dive  bombing  either.  They were simply
          wading up and down the lanes as if they were in a foot race.
          A thought suddenly occurred to Vince.

          Could they be  ...?  Surely  not. No, they couldn't possibly
          be. Well, perhaps  they were in training to strengthen their
          calf muscles in preparation for another week of thousands of
          stairs, miles of station corridors. No, surely they couldn't
          be. It didn't bear thinking about.

          Strengthening one's calf  muscles  wasn't the only reason to
          go swimming in  Japan,  it  appeared. Vince only went to one
          other swimming pool  in  Japan, although he did like to swim
          off the Pacific  coast  of  Chiba occasionally. Swimming off
          the coast of  Yokohama  was  not exactly desirable, although
          there was a  strip  of  half of a kilometre of sand that had
          been dropped in Kanazawa Ward to make the Umi-no-koen beach.
          Between 21st. July and 14th. September, the place was packed
          with people sun-bathing, paddling or hunting for sea shells.
          He got the impression that it was possible to walk across to
          Chiba at this  particular  point.  In  any  case,  for every
          minute the average  Japanese  bather  spent  paddling,  they
          spent at least five minutes washing it all off.

          One day, without  Connie,  Vince  went  to  a  huge swimming
          complex called Wild Blue in Tsurumi Ward. He'd read about it
          in a number  of  magazines and his parents had even told him
          about a documentary about it in Australia.

          It was quite obvious as he joined the ticket queue which was
          already 40 metres  long  that  he  was  the  only  person by
          himself in the  entire  place.  It  was  a  haven  for young
          families and trendy  couples with matching bathing costumes.
          Vince  always looked  at  women,  young  or  not  so  young,
          beautiful or not  so  beautiful,  and he found that he could
          instantly tell the  difference  between  the mothers and the
          girlfriends,  although  there   was   often  no  appreciable
          difference in age.  The  girlfriends  had bathing suits that
          required the shaving  of great tracts of pubic hair in order
          to stay legal under Japan's stringent pubic hair laws.

          The Wild Blue  dressing  rooms,  Vince noted, were a massive
          expanse in themselves  -  locker  after  locker,  dozens  of
          showers, separate changing  cubicles  and  a  special breezy
          tunnel for drying  off.  He was pleased to see that he could
          easily leave everything  in the changing room and especially
          didn't have to take any money with him. His locker key had a
          bar code that  registered on your bill which you paid in the
          lobby as you  left. The completely covered swimming pool was
          so balmy that no towel was required for drying off. In fact,
          on an already  hot  day,  Wild  Blue was even hotter inside.
          This was to  give  the impression of a tropical paradise and
          also a reminder  that  it  was one of the few all year round
          swimming facilities.

          The water was  also  heated.  This  didn't really suit Vince
          because he loved  the  freshness  of  cold water. There were
          also  signs up  everywhere  warning  against  dive  bombing.
          Nevertheless Vince could  see  that  Wild Blue was the place
          for him. There  was  no  need for goggles or bathing cap and
          the whole place  did  have a tropical feel to it. There were
          bungalows  with rusty  rooves  and  plastic  tropical  fruit
          drying on them.  There  was  an  old pirate wreck, caves and
          rocky areas, an  old  rum factory windmill around which five
          water slides wound  their slippery ways, and a fortress like
          building that turned out to be one of several bars, not five
          seconds saunter from the water.

          Deck chairs lined  a  mock  beach  area  which was in fact a
          grainy concrete or  processed sand. Tiny waves lapped in and
          you could float out to around one metre, quite obviously the
          standard depth for  swimming in Japan and Vince pitied those
          with very long  arms.  It  obviously did get deeper as there
          was a rope  buoyed  by  coconut  floats marked the limit for

          All at once,  the life attendants were clearing the pool and
          Vince found himself  wondering if someone had not lost their
          bathers yet again.  There  seemed to be an awful lot of life
          guards. Did this  mean  that a lot of people drowned at Wild
          Blue? Everybody huddled  on  the  shore  expectantly  as  if
          they'd never been  told  to  get  out of a Japanese swimming
          pool before. Then, all of a sudden, a voice like the Delphic
          Oracle, like the  Cecil  B.  DeMille's depiction of the Lord
          Jehovah calling Moses from the burning bush, like the voices
          of evil taunting  Batman,  resounded  off  the  wall and the
          first BIG WAVE,  more  than a metre high rolled in, crashing
          onto  the  concrete  beach  front.  Soon,  there  were  folk
          tumbling in on foam surfboards from beyond where the coconut
          markers had been.  The waves kept coming until there were no
          more  surfers  and  then  the  waters  regained  their  calm

          Body surfing on  the big wave, like spinning down one of the
          1 to 5  grade  water  slides, seemed a lot too energetic for
          Vince and the  spa  baths  and  saunas on the sidelines were
          just too sedate.  It  was  upstairs  that he found his happy
          medium - a  three  metre  wide continuous swimming lane, 120
          centimetres deep and  350  metres  around.  It  wound  under
          bridges and through  the  wreck  of  the  pirate ship, along
          rocks and through  caves.  There  were even points where you
          could get a  view  of  the  Big Wave rolling in, if you felt
          suddenly in the mood for extra excitement.

          This was Vince's  idea of exercise. There was really no need
          to do any swimming at all and even wading to strengthen your
          calf muscles was  rendered  unnecessary. There was a special
          jet current that  would  merely  push you lazily around each
          lap in an  anti-clockwise  direction. And after every second
          orbit, Vince would  pop  out  for another quick beer at Cafe
          Fortuna. Fortuna was  a  good name for it as it was right by
          the waterway. You couldn't miss it.