MAKITANI -Thirty Years Later - Papers & Essays



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MAKITANI -Thirty Years Later

Makitani is a small village at the eastern end of Iwami town in Tottori-ken, separated from the sea by a low sandy ridge, mostly overgrown; the village itself faces away from the sea, but the seaward side of the ridge is now dotted with villas, log cabins and holiday homes. I first went there more than forty years ago, and found that it was an ideal place to stay, being on the boundary between the sandy beaches and dunes of Tottori and the rocky San-in coast with its wonderful cliffs and caves.

When our older daughters were still small (ages from four to ten) we took them there for the first time. Although we lived in Kobe, they had almost never seen the sea, and of course the great beach of Iwami was a paradise for them; so we came back again and again. As time went on, we became more adventurous in our excursions: just to the east of Makitani, where the rocky coast begins, there is the small isolated beach of Kumaihama, which can only be reached by a twenty-minute walk down a footpath from the coast road. This became our favourite spot for picnics, for it was much less crowded, not at all noisy, and if you arrived early you could be sure of a place in the shade to pitch the tent. But it needed an effort to get there! It is easy to imagine how the children complained, as they trudged down the slope carrying baskets, food, drinks and things for swimming. Sometimes we let them have their way and pitched our tent on the big beach at Makitani, but more and more often we decided to go further afield, and if we went they had to come too. Gradually they got used to it, and the complaints became fainter. Soon, if we let them choose, they would pick somewhere they liked, even if it meant an effort to get there, and, as we often used to tell them, their appetite for lunch was all the better for the exercise. Often we compromised - half the day would be spent at the 'public' end of the big beach at Uradome, where there was noise, activity and things to buy, and the other half at some newly discovered place, which usually meant a steep descent down to the sea. The most exciting of all was the walk along the cliff top and down stairs cut into the rock leading to the entrance to the magnificent cave called Ryujindo, which can only be entered by swimming. That, of course, was out of bounds; but we will come to that later.

As our daughters grew older, they all in turn went to boarding school in England, but came back regularly for their holidays. Every summer, they went with us back to Makitani. There were no longer any complaints when they had to walk to other beaches. On the contrary, they had adopted our point of view, and what they wanted became more and more like what we wanted - with a few differences, naturally, because adults are adults and teenagers are teenagers. The real tipping-point came when our eldest, now married with an English husband and living in north London, started coming to Kobe with her two small children every summer, so that they could spend the last month of every summer term at a Japanese school, and not forget their Japanese. That meant that the whole cycle started again -walks down to the beach, complaints, the reward of picnics in the shade, swimming and exploring in peace, and summer games on the sand. Now our grandchildren come to Kobe in June and ask "When are we going to Tottori?" Soon it will start all over again.

This summer, through an amazing run of good luck, we had three daughters all living in London and all able to come at more or less the same time, so that at one point we were all together and could set off for Tottori-ken. What is more, another daughter, who lives in Tokyo, was able to fly to Tottori and join us on the beach. In fact they got there before us, and when we arrived they told us triumphantly that they had been to Ryujindo and reached the end of the cave. That is some achievement - the main cave is 150 metres long and can only be reached by swimming in deep water and then passing through a narrow tunnel where there is only just room to breathe, followed by more deep water in almost total darkness. At the far end there is a shelving pebbly beach, from which you look back and see the entrance as a faint, distant vault of light, and even in the summer heat it is shiveringly cold.

That, I felt, was the justification of all our efforts at persuasion to walk the twenty minutes down to the beach at Kumaihama. When children, in their turn, apply the same methods to their children and achieve the same results, we can assume, as parents or as pediatricians, that our teaching has not been without value. Let us hope that the cycle will be repeated in future generations.