Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hockney Days in Wadabori Koen

Somewhere in the top 5 of our personal favorite Tokyo summer phenomena (along with cicadas, butterflies, summer festivals and strawberry kaki kouri with evaporated milk) is splashing around in outdoor swimming pools. Our nearest and dearest is the public pool in Wadabori Koen, about a 10-minute bike ride from Ajimi HQ. Like most municipal pools, it opens on the first of July, about a month later than our biological thermostats tells us it should. By mid-June at the latest summer in Tokyo is literally going full steam and we find ourselves longing for a sunny pool to plunge into.

For the first few weeks each season the 50-meter pool is relatively empty for most of the day and one can spend blissful hours floating through a David Hockney world of sunlit bright blue and do actual laps without running into anyone. But as schools let out for the summer around mid-July and the heat becomes increasingly insufferable, the pool becomes a tangle of legs and floatation devices. It is then hard to advance more than a few meters without getting broadsided by a 1/2 scale inflatable killer whale. One gives up hope of doing any real swimming but surrenders to the joys of splashing around and goofing off like a 9-year-old. There's plenty of real wildlife to relate to there, as well, among the inflatable kind. Dragonflies dart along the water's surface on bright afternoons and bats emerge from the adjacent woods in the evenings. Then there are the buzzing near-corpses of doomed cicadas bobbing along in the water which we gently move to the drier pool edge as much to avoid swallowing the damn things as out of respect for their final agonies.

But my platonic ideal of a neighborhood pool is still the first one I encountered when I moved to Japan. I lived then in Urawa, Saitama prefecture, and Harayama was my local pool. The main pool was an oval course about 7 meters wide and 200 meters in circumference. In addition, there was a lap pool located within the oval and a kiddie pool with a slide. But the oval pool was the main attraction. On hot days it was packed with people walking, floating, occasionally swimming in the same direction, a great tide of humanity. In fact, the current created by this movement was so strong that it was impossible to walk against it in the opposite direction. I could spend hours in that pool, chatting with friends, watching young families float by on air mattresses, occasionally stepping out for a lunch consisting of a footlong hotdog and yakisoba. I started work around 1 pm in those days so most mornings I hit the pool and I got brown as a nut.

The Wadabori Koen pool closes this week for the season, a bit too early, of course. We could happily swim there well into October. We will hit the nearby indoor pool from time to time but it won't be the same. The mood at the indoor pool seems more geared toward the inner geriatric than the inner 9-year-old.

VS

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