Sunday, January 22, 2012

Winter Swimming part II: Kamakura

5:30AM comes very early when you were drinking wine and Jinro until 11:30 the night before. Now I can say with certainty, however, that dunking your head into a bucket of cold water does, indeed, cure a hangover. AT least, jumping into a cold ocean was unpleasant enough to do the trick.

We awoke at 5:30 in the morning on January 15th in order to make the hour drive from Nakajima Sensei’s house in Setagaya to the beach in Kamakura where we would be meeting the rest of our group and “going for a dip.” Groggy and feeling slightly hung-over from too much wine, the bumpy ride in the back of Nakajima Sensei’s van made me feel ill enough that I began to look forward to a cold bath in the ocean. When we arrived in Kamakura, however, the sharp wind and 5 degree C (41 degree F) air temperature made me reconsider matters. Kashiwazaki Sensei had said the night before, with a laugh, that snow had been forecasted for Sunday. Thankfully, it seemed to be a clear morning.

After the hour’s car ride, everything seemed to happen quite suddenly. The forty-odd members of the dormitory club where Kashiwazaki Sensei and Nakajima Sensei jointly teach were already awaiting us. As we got out of his vehicle, Nakajima Sensei grabbed my arm and tucked my hand in his elbow, “Let’s go!" We started running down the sidewalk toward the beach. As we approached the sand, we took off our shoes, coats and shirts and, again taking my hand, Nakajima Sensei continued his inexorable run toward the ocean.
Not being able to see the on-coming waters, my impression was a slow-motion gallop across sand so cold it seemed dead and lifeless. The crashing waves, at first distant, began to strike closer… closer…. And, suddenly, my feet and legs were plunged into cold water that quickly rose past my waist. As the cold hit me, I stopped dead with my mouth hanging open in slight shock… allowing a wave to slap me full in the face. I spent the following several minutes spitting out salt. Having grown up in Michigan, surrounded by fresh water lakes, salt water is still something that baffles me.
The waters off the coast of Kamakura, a balmy 16 degrees C (61 degrees F) made me recall fondly the relatively comfortable swim in Katsuura from the week before. We quickly joined hands in a large circle and, as in Katsuura, each individual had to introduce themselves and say a goal for the coming year. Unfortunately, I was caught on the shallower side of the circle and the ocean waters only came up to my waist. Far from a relief, however, this just meant that I was left continuously shivering as each new wave covered me with water and the wind worked to dry it… taking my body-heat along the way.
In an effort to appear macho, the first several members of our circle made long, elaborate introductions. “I am so-called. I study such-and-such and live in the eastern wing of said-dormitory. I am going to work really hard this year to do this-and-that….” As time passed, however, and people began to get colder, their introductions began to get shorter and shorter until the last several people were nearly unintelligible. When 15 minutes had passed and our circle finally broke up, I thought, “OK, not so bad, I can handle this.” Nakajima Sensei began to back slowly toward the shore. Then, for some mysterious reason, he said, “Let’s go for a swim!” and back out we went.

The worst part about kanchuusuiei is not the swimming; it’s getting out afterwards. Though not strong, the wind was blowing steadily. AS we emerged from the water, we were huddled into a group on the sand for photos. The sand seemed to burn with the cold and, before five minutes had past, I had lost all ability to feel or even move my toes. In retrospect—sitting under a heater with all toes functional—it was totally worth the picture.

Apparently my continuous shivering and whimpering were enough to convey my growing discomfort for, as soon as the photos were finished, Nakajima Sensei's son ran to grab me a towel and my clothes. He even let me borrow his coat to wear atop my own, for which I am eternally grateful.

After a quick breakfast of gyuudon—thinly sliced beef on rice with a raw egg and onion—we drove back to Setagaya to a Japanese sento or “public bathhouse.” AS I have been in Japan for three years, I am well aware of the protocols and procedures of public bathing. Most foreigners find it a little uncomfortable, however, and the Japanese always seem eager to watch the shy foreigner. AS cold as I was, though, I didn’t hesitate to strip naked; “Let’s go mate!”
Our time in the sento was brief—only about ten minutes—but it was enough to drive the chill out of our bones. On the long train ride back to Katsuura, I began to consider the fact that the Sensei never seem to suffer as much as the rest of us. I have a theory about this: no matter how horrible or unpleasant a task may be, if you are the one forcing others to suffer, then you can endure nearly anything for the satisfaction of watching those around you squirm. If I ever have a dojo of my own, you can rest assured that I will carry on this sadistic tradition of kanchuusuiei. The thought that I am the one responsible for making everyone else cold will warm my heart to no end.

1 comment:

  1. Nick - another fantastic experience for you. I can picture Nakajima sensei leading you into the sea! Keep learning from all this. It will all make sense one day!