It has only taken us 12 years to work out what every Japanese child knows: in July and August we should swim. It is the only sensible thing to do with temperatures in the 30s and humidity in the 90s. How has it take us so long to work it out?
When I first came to Japan I looked for swimming pools and was surprised to find them uncommon and inconvenient. I sometimes felt a bit sad about it but didn't think of researching further. About a year ago, while we were in the USA, and I didn't feel like running as much as James, I had the idea of swimming. After all a swim suit is even less gear to carry about that running shoes. So I bought a new suit and when we were abroad sought out the pools. Since then I've swam in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Honolulu, New Jersey, Jeju (South Korea). It took a while to get used to swimming again after a decade off. At some point, James, who always likes to beat me at everything, decided he should also give it a go. However James is not a good swimmer. Apparently this is because he is an "athlete" and I am only "fitness" (ie fat to muscle ratio). But he was sufficiently motivated to catch me up that he did some research on pools in Japan. And he discovered Japanese swimming culture.
This is it:
I'd looked in completely the wrong places. Japanese swimming is outdoors, and only in summer! The outdoor pools are plentiful. There is one near the beach in Kamakura (includes a 50m, a 25m, and two kiddy pools), there is one (25m + kiddy pool) 10 mins ride from work. The one in the photo above is a few miles away near Ishikawacho in Yokohama. The pools open mostly 9am-5pm, 1st July-31st August. So there is no early morning swim before work and what people do for swimming the rest of the year remains a mystery. The strangest ubiquitous rule is that every hour everyone gets out of the pool for 10 minutes, so the lifeguards can pull out the dead bodies. All the pools are very shallow. James has yet to be out of his depth. The most amazing thing is how kind everyone is to everyone else. The pools can be quite full at times, with lots of young kids, but there is no screaming or splashing and no bad behaviour at all. Everyone is just having fun. The Lifeguards (or which there are many) are very courteous. They come up to you and quietly inform you right away when you inadvertently break a rule. I don't mind what rules they have if it enables them to manage so many people. At the Kamakura pool you take you shoes and towel in a bag to the poolside, so you can get quickly shod and run up the hill should there be a tsunami warming. And at least you will have your towel with you even if all your other personal possessions are washed away, which would please Douglas Adams, if no one else.
I'd never swum in a 50m pool before so it took a while to get used to it. With quite a lot of people and wind waves too, it can be a bit choppy. However, first I managed one length, then two and then more. The gates open at 9am, and I can get into the pool by 9:05am so then there are 55mins to swim before one has to get out and rest while they do the ceremonial dredging thing. Obviously the goal is to swim as far as one can in that 55 minutes. I managed the mile (32 lengths) a couple of weeks ago, a frustrating 39 lengths last week, but today completed the magical 2km (40 lengths). This includes a gentle warm up and a mixture of breast stroke and front crawl; really I wasn't going very hard until I noticed I had about 15 minutes to complete the remaining 14 lengths. Then it was a bit of a race against the clock!
Meanwhile, James has been improving my swimming technique considerably, as he finds videos on the internet that are supposed to help him stay afloat. He has actually improved immensely. He can complete lengths of the 50m pool for both breatstroke and front crawl. He can also now swim front crawl faster than my breast stroke!! ...but only for 25m until some freak outside thing prevents completion of the race, like he "gets bored" or "stops" or gets a "lungful of water" or "water in his eyes" or "water up his nose". I have been attempting to teach him too, and have learnt that he is almost as obstinate and difficult a pupil as I am. With all that muscle he surely must have the potential to beat me. But, in the meantime I get to enjoy really truly being faster than James at a self-propelled sport despite my puny "fitness" body!