Every now and then, Samurai Sports staff and other poor victims (better known as contributors) write about their first-hand experience at a sporting event in Japan. In Event Reviews, we give you the scoop on what it's like to participate in everything from rides to runs, triathlons, and everything in between.
On the 3rd Monday of July each year, Japan celebrates one of many public holidays - Marine Day (or Sea Day, Ocean Day, Beach Day, etc.). Mostly, it celebrates the first “official” day beaches open for the summer and marks the end of tsuyu, or the rainy season.
After celebrating its 20 year anniversary last year, the Chiba Swimming Federation again hosted the annual Tateyama Open Water Swim Festival this past weekend. With the support of Samurai Sports staff A1 as head photographer and Shigeo as chief of transporation, I (Faith, the main guinea pig) entered the 2K swim with (not exactly unfounded) trepidation.
Summer Is Near (Here?)
Temperatures wavered in the high 20s to low 30s (or the mid to high 80s for the Americans) throughout the day. The waters measured at around 26 degrees and the event was wetsuit legal so many opted to swim in their wetsuits but plenty also swam in triathlon suits or swimsuits. Though overcast, walking barefoot on the black sand beach was all but impossible. The clouds fooled me and I am left with a tattoo of my race number - a sad reminder of the time I desperately fought against the surf, which reminds me…
Choppy Chiba Currents
My open water swim experience consists of Singapore and Indonesia where the waters are calm and flat with nary a wave. The currents at Tateyama Beach were considered favorable but as I made my way away from land and into the vastness of the ocean, the sheer number of jet skis zooming around combined with winds and the natural lull of the waves made for a swim choppier than anything I had ever experienced. My saving grace was the low tide, meaning the waters were shallow enough to stand in easily for at least a third of the route.
Ready, Set, Wait a Minute
The 2K swimmers were all told to gather for a race briefing at 11AM. Unfortunately, it was unclear where we were supposed to flock to. Once we figured it out, the sand was so hot no one could stand around without flip flops and some resorted to kneeling on their wetsuits. We were then herded into several line formations by gender and race number before finally settling down for the briefing. Towards the end, it became clear that the speaker had no idea where the finish line would be. At the same time, the lifeguards began towing the finish line buoys towards land in front of us and behind the speaker. Naturally, minor chaos ensued until the event organizers finally (kind of) clarified the finish line for the 2K swimmers.
Swim, Swam, Swum
Still somewhat uncertain about the layout or location of the finish line, about 200 of us splashed into the water, then began swimming rather unceremoniously at the toot of a bullhorn. As can be expected, the first hundred or so meters were maddening but the crowds disperse quickly with time. It was unclear how we were supposed to finish the race but I followed the bobbing heads then finally sighted the lane buoys leading us to the promised land.
After navigating myself around the traffic cones directing us floppy swimmers to a free bottle of water and returning our race chip bands, I stumbled towards the open air showers. Then, I proceeded to change in public - under a towel. No free shows here. Based on personal observation, this towel-based costume change is an important art to master in Japan. You aren’t a cool swimmer if you can’t do this without batting an eyelash.
Closer to shore, we were each given numbered plastic tags corresponding to our finishing position. To this day, I am not entirely sure of the purpose of these plastic tags. I already know I swam an awful time and seeing the position I placed just rubs salt on the wound. For what it’s worth, although everyone slowly walked out of the water, I knew the race chip sensor was another 30 something meters from the shore, so I ran like a turtle up the sand (every second counts!).
Promptly after the last swimmer arrived safely back on shore, an awards presentation was held for the
best trained dolphins fastest swimmers. For the rest of us, it’s been a handful of days since the event concluded but there have been no updates on the website regarding results.
I didn’t stay long enough to witness it but the grand finale of the day was a jyanken (rock, paper, scissors) tournament. Apparently a staple at sporting events across Japan, I haven’t yet seen how it all plays out but besides struggling/almost drowning together, fast and furious rounds of jyanken seems like an effective and lighthearted way to develop a sense of community, regardless of cultural background.
For my first OWS in Japan, it went as well as it could. It was great to bump into two Triathlon in Tokyo teammates and I commend their 5K OWS accomplishment. It was a hot day (and even hotter on the sand!) but I'm happy to have had the opportunity to gain more open water swimming experience and I consider it a day well spent.
Finally, I don’t think anyone went out there and unlocked a PR but it’s not impossible. First-timers and less certain swimmers were welcome to make use of the safety buoys (free of charge) and the number of lifeguards floating around was more than reassuring. Lifeguards were also on hand at a shallow area serving bottled water in disposable cups. The three of us drove about 2 hours using the Tokyo Aqualine but there are several bus services that make the trip between Tateyama and the Tokyo area (about 2,500 one way).
8.5/10 I would do this again.