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
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
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.