In Chiba, Japan, the surfing patterns are two extremes: chilly and sometimes white-capped homes in the winter and warm, welcoming waters that fill the beaches with vacationers in the summer.
Naturally, Yuko Shimajiri’s surf shop Bons: Casa de Verano—resting in a rural area on the way to the beach—draws in a medley of shoppers. From office ladies who practice yoga and paddle on the sunny weekends to salty surfers grabbing a coffee on their way home from the beach, Yuko loves sharing her worldwide finds with the unique faces that walk through her doors. “The shop is all about stuff I love: surfing, clothing. My interests and style are there!”
As one of our guides in Japan, Yuko shared what she loves about owning a store and her experiences surfing and meeting new friends around the world.
All photos courtesy of Yuko Shimajiri or Luki O'Keefe.
What were your first experiences with surfing?
I tried shortboarding at 18-years-old but I didn't get better so I stopped riding. At that time, shortboarding was definitely the mainstream so it seemed like there were no other choices. You know, it is pretty hard for the novice. There were no surf schools around so I just tried to learn from others but it wasn't easy. I didn't have a car so I kind of lost motivation to go surfing. I got serious about surfing when I started longboarding at 25-years-old. I had thought taking off was so hard but could stand up with my first try on a longboard. Everyone would love it if the first ride were a nice long one to the shore, right?
Were there a lot of women surfers in Japan at that time?
There were fewer women surfers but amateur women contests are really popular. Sometimes there were lotteries just to participate. Big surf brand names and magazine publishers sponsored those contests with fancy prizes like an overseas surf trip with photo shooting for magazines! I competed in those contests to make friends with many other women surfers.
What was the first international surf contest you participated in and how did it feel to meet other surfers from different countries?
The first one was ROXY CLASSIC at SanO. You don't compete with famous surfers unless you round up as they are usually in different classes or seeded high in Japan. It was super exciting for me to surf with star surfers I saw on DVD or magazines.
The late Donald Takayama was one of your mentors and your surfboard sponsor. What lessons did you hold dear from him about surfing and life?
Donald taught me not to compete with others but just to make today's myself better that yesterday. He already had shaped such great surfboards but he never stopped thinking about how he could make his boards better. Every morning, he started shaping before dawn and finished by the time everyone got out of water. When I was surfing, he saw my riding from the parking lot and gave me advice over breakfast. He treated all the riders like a part of his own family.
I am so grateful to be a part of his team. When I went to France for the contest, my board was broken on the airplane but one of the Takayama riders from another country loaned me a surfboard so I could compete.
From your surf travels, how do you describe the culture of women’s surfing in Japan as distinct from other places?
Shy? Modest? It is not only women but Japanese people tend not to talk to strangers. So when I talked to a stranger in the water, he/she is usually very surprised and my friend asks me if I know the person. If we never talk to strangers, we don't get to know new people or make new friends. Just smile and say hello makes your surfing life so much more fun!
Why do you love being a store owner?
I love going on trips because it brings me so many wonderful encounters. Being at my store is almost like it. I can meet so many people just like when I'm on a trip. If I were working for one company, I would only get to know someone who has something to do with my job. But here, I meet all kinds of people do many different jobs through surfing and some of them become really close friends. My shop is not by the beach so non-surfers stop by too. It is in a rural town so maybe a little different from other shops around.
What are the other activities that you like to do when you’re not surfing?
I like to take photos, making things. I take photos in the water and make board cases - they are always something to do with surfing.
What are your favorite places to travel and surf in Japan and why?
Each place has something nice so it is hard to pick one but I probably visited Miyazaki the most. There are usually waves and lots of points to choose from.
What are the popular places that Japanese surfers like to travel to?
From Kanto area, Miyazaki is very popular. Surfers from other parts of Japan like to visit Shonan or Chiba.
Where would you recommend for surfers to visit in Japan to find waves and a nice culture?
Shonan - waves are a bit inconsistent but you can experience surf culture in Japan. If you want to find waves, Chiba would be better. Because it is surrounded by the ocean like an island, there always somewhere you can surf. Amami Oshima is also a great destination to enjoy the nature and surf. Get inexpensive airline tickets for your quick surf trip during the Japan stay.
Why is surfing an important part of your life?
It is my day-to-day purpose and guide. I check surf every morning and decide where to surf. Talk about next trip or what to eat for lunch with friends in the water.
My work is necessary for going to surf trips. Going home and checking tomorrow's forecast is pretty much routine but waves are different every single day. Surfing leads me to tomorrow, the next day, and 10 years from now.
How do you see surfers live differently?
I think surfers have a more diverse community. Because the age or social status do not matter while you are surfing. Surfers can connect with other surfers to share the moment and waves every single day!
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