This September, many JETs, current and former, braved cooling temperatures and the threat of rain to enjoy one of Iwaki’s great stretches of beach at what has come to be known as the “Beach Bomb.” For over ten years, the Beach Bomb has offered the warmest (formerly held in the hotter days of August) welcome to Fukushima’s newcomers and provided a great chance for others to reconnect at the end of summer.
Just north of Iwaki City, Yotsukura Beach, a broad strip of soft, inviting sand has long been a haven for surfers and others keen to enjoy one of the prefecture’s fantastic ocean fronts. Easy access to showers, public restrooms, parking, and a nearby train station all aid in its accessibility and appeal. Sadly, the beach and its surrounding community were hit quite hard by the 2011 tsunami and today amenities such as running water for showers and restrooms still remain in a state of disrepair. Progress in rebuilding is ongoing, however, and construction crews and their cranes now toil along the waterfront, shifting tetrapods and fortifying the coastline, while convenience stores and local shops re-appear day-by-day.
Against this backdrop, FuJETs gathered on the first weekend of September with tents, barbecues, and lots of beach sandals. Some swam, others tended the makeshift bonfire and a few pitched their tents. The Koriyama club event, PULL brought over a sound system and provided some background music throughout the evening. Thus this year’s attendees helped carry on a long tradition of seaside fun at Yotsukura Beach.
From its humble beginnings of Iwakians (Iwaki JETs) gathering on the beach to camp, swim and play music, the Beach Bomb grew as former Iwaki JET, John Loynes and his Phoenix Iwaki group endeavored to bring local businesses, community groups and performers together year after year until attendance of the two day party reached the thousands. Myriad attractions including beachside bars, food vendors, taiko performances, live stages, skateboard half-pipes, motocross showcases and beach volleyball tournaments would all eventually contribute to the Beach Bomb’s status as Fukushima’s premiere summer party.
By 2006 the successful beach party was well known and complaints of noise (fireworks!) and subsequent visits from the police had become an annual occurrence. Even with the support and participation of many local community members, the ever-increasing size of the Beach Bomb required more resources and commitment than were available and roughly seven years ago the massive summer event ceased to exist. A few intrepid Iwakians and FuJETs would continue the summer beach tradition, but the earthquake and tsunami put a stop to everything for a while.
In many ways, this year’s modest gathering might seem reminiscent of the Bomb’s early days: a smattering of JETs eating and drinking around a bonfire in the spirit of welcoming newcomers and making new friends. There is a difference this time though, as participation in events like these can serve a much greater purpose in the revitalization and growth of Fukushima during this critical period. Many Fukushima residents, and particularly those in Iwaki whose livelihood depends on tourism, still worry greatly that foreigners and others from outside the prefecture are too fearful to come here.
Our public, respectful appreciation and enjoyment of Fukushima’s varied and great nature can once again be a point of pride for those living here and our sharing of these experiences with the outside world through social media can have a near instant impact on its future.
I hope you’ll continue enjoy all that Fukushima has to offer and share it with all of the world.