By Kazuhiko Hirano / Yomiuri Shimbun Sportswriter KAIYO, Tokushima — The southernmost town in Tokushima Prefecture, facing the Pacific Ocean, is a popular surfing spot. Known as Kaiyo, it was formed in 2006 by the merger of three towns — Kainan, Kaifu and Shishikui — and true to its name, which means “the town of the sea and the sun,” people can enjoy surfing here almost year-round. In recent years it’s become a home to world-class young surfers.
The sport is expected to vitalize the depopulating town, also because surfing was chosen as a 2020 Tokyo Olympic event.
People moving in
Sunlight was shining on the blue sea and ocean waves were breaking at a beach in Kaiyo. Local up-and-coming surfer Roi Kanazawa, 17, made a big splash as he skillfully executed a turn on a surfboard.
“This is a perfect place for surfing. I want to be the top surfer in the world,” Kanazawa said with a smile on his tanned face.
The Kaifugawa river, which runs through the town, flows from the Shikoku mountain range into the Pacific Ocean, and big, beautiful waves are formed when the ocean current hits the delta at the mouth of the river. Known as Kaifugawa Kako (the estuary of the Kaifugawa river), this is one of the major surfing spots in Japan, drawing surfers from around the nation.
Every year more than 80,000 visitors are said to come to the area, including the neighboring Ikumi beach in Kochi Prefecture. There are about 2 million people in Japan who surf, and the sport plays an important role in vitalizing the small town, which has a population of about 9,300.
Many people move to the town in search of ocean waves. Keanu Chris Kamiyama, 18, who won the under-18 division of the 2018 World Junior Surfing Championship, moved here from Osaka city when he was in junior high school, seeking a place where he could focus on training. “It’s inspiring and exciting because there are many rivals,” Kamiyama said.
He is committed to training with other promising surfers, including Jo Azuchi, an 18-year-old surfer from the town and the champion of the under-16 division of the 2017 World Junior Surfing Championship.
Promoting indigo dyeing
Leki Nagahara, 37, is one of those who are working to promote the area by linking fashion and lifestyle to surfing. He was born and grew up in Kaiyo, and has been promoting its appeal in terms of “a juncture of surfing and traditional crafts.”
After graduating from university, Nagahara lived in foreign countries, such as the United States and Australia, where surfing is popular, and learned the concept of living in harmony with nature.
About 10 years ago, when he lived in Tokyo, he was attracted by the beauty of indigo dyeing — of which Tokushima Prefecture is a leading producer — and moved back to the prefecture to learn the traditional technique.
“Tokushima is the largest producer of indigo. It’s the color of the sea, the sky and the Earth. Besides, it’s environmentally friendly. I thought this was it,” he said.
Nagahara opened a studio called “in Between Blues” in Kaiyo two years ago. In cooperation with a local company, he made surfboards colored with an indigo dyeing technique. He also organized an event featuring surfing, indigo dyeing and music all together.
“People and money will flow out of the town unless we discover value in things so we can equally compete with urban areas,” said Nagahara. “I want to utilize indigo, which is called ‘Japan blue,’” he added. He is enthusiastic about promoting cultures unique to the town.
Hopes for vitalization
The beach is busy, but the town is facing the problem of depopulation. The number of residents peaked at about 20,000 in 1950 and had fallen to nearly half that in 2010. It is forecast to halve again by 2040.
Surfing is now an official event of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and in recent years the Kaiyo town government has supported surfing competitions while promoting such local charms as hot springs at the events, hoping the sport will help vitalize the town.
Local residents hope that people not only enjoy riding waves but also come to appreciate and cherish nature through surfing.
“For future generations, I want to preserve the beautiful sea, which Japan is about to lose,” said Yujiro Tsuji, a 34-year-old professional surfer based in the town.
Travel from Tokushima Station to Kaifu Station on the JR Mugi Line takes about 2 hours, and it is about 15 minutes on foot from Kaifu Station to Kaifugawa Kako. By car, it takes about 2 hours from Tokushima Station or Tokushima Airport to Kaifu Station. By highway bus, it takes about 2½ hours to get to Tokushima from Osaka, and about 2 hours from Sannomiya in Kobe. It is about 15 minutes by car from Kaiyo to the Ikumi beach.Speech