“To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.”
-Stephen R. Covey
Before I go onto the thrust of this article on the Iioka Lighthouse and its surroundings, I just want to express why to me this was an emotionally worthwhile place to go to aside of its purely positive physical features:
Like many, as a teenager, I was swept up by the beauty of poetry and poetic language. I dabbled in writing at it with my amateur primate mind and a fair number even saw print. Outside of my family, no one else I knew in my home town openly had such interests. However, something that thankfully reinforced that this was not a weird thing to be doing was the film the ‘Dead Poet’s Society’.
The ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ was a good film for a teenager like me. The underlying premise of a teacher truly inspiring some of their students to try and free themselves of some of the societal and familial programming to which they had been subjected was an engaging, if a little self-indulgent, story. The tale of the deprogramming that every adult goes through on their way to becoming their mature self especially strikes a chord with each of us as we fumble our way through what is oft referred to as our “rebellious phase”.
Alas! There are many who say that such a teacher today, in the current climate of the political oversight of education and the weaponised vote-wining prescription of schemes of work and curriculums, is far more straight-jacketed than even the students themselves in this movie. However, they do still exist. I have fond memories of my last teacher at junior school, Mr. Heaney, who was such a man and is definitely a contributing factor as to why I am still in education now.
One scene from the movie that I particularly liked was the one where each student had to stand on the front desk and look about the room. Mr. Keating, played by the dearly departed Robin Williams, first stands on the desk before his bewildered students.
‘Why do I stand up here? Anybody?’
‘To feel taller!” Said a young student called Dalton.
‘No!’ Mr. Keating as he dings a reception bell with his shoe. ‘Thank you for playing Mr. Dalton. I stand on my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.’ He then invites his students to do the same. In my opinion, this is exactly what a trip to Iioka Lighthouse also gives the visitor a chance to do.
Iioka Lighthouse overlooks the Pacific Ocean on the southern edge of the Choshi peninsula in Chiba prefecture known as Cape Gyoubumi or Gyoubumi Misaki in Japanese. It is set high upon sandstone and shale cliffs and affords a great view of both Asahi City and the well-known 66 kilometre Kujukuri beach. The constant battering of the Pacific means that there is a high erosion rate of the shoreline thus another feature you’ll no doubt notice are the lines of huge concrete tetrapod blocks along the breakwaters that dissipate the force of the incoming waves.
Before continuing, I just want to spend a moment discussing tetrapods: These are a huge feature of the Japanese coast across the country. Japan’s coastline is about 35’000km in length and over 50% of this is protected by tetrapods or analogous wave-dissipating blocks to one extent or the other. For beach-loving tourists this means that in certain parts of the country it can be difficult to find pristine beaches such as you may associate with places like Hawaii, the Seychelles or Maui for example, but they do exist in Japan. I would heartily recommend checking any beach you intend to go to on the internet beforehand to avoid disappointment.
So, let us talk about Kujukuri. To start with, the naming of the beach has a short bit of history attached to it: Minamoto no Yoritomo, the first Shogun and patriarch of the Kamakura Shogunate thought that the length of the beach was 99 Ri, where a Ri is a unit of length of 660m; Kujuku means 99 in Japanese. This works out at around 65km which is not far off its actual length of 66km at all. During the Edo period the beach and the many towns dotted along it became important centres for the net-fishing and production of dried sardines. Asahi city, the closest port to the Iioka lighthouse, still handles the second highest amount of fish in the whole of Chiba Prefecture due to its continued proximity to the abundant fishing grounds off the peninsula.
Another interesting historical fact you may wish to dazzle your travelling comrades with is that at the very end of World War II, after the fall of Okinawa, the Allies had intended to invade the Japanese mainland in a plan known as Operation Coronet. One of the major landing spots they intended to use was Kujukuri. This had been anticipated by the Japanese military and they were in the process of constructing formidable defences. However they were unfinished by the time that the atom bombs that annihilated both Nagasaki and Hiroshima with irradiated fire were dropped. The combination of an incomplete defence network and complete air inferiority so as to prevent more and more bombings were deciding factors in contributing to Emperor Hirohito’s decision to unconditionally surrender; something unthinkable to many in the military leadership at the time. Had these defences been completed, could we have seen a repeat of the D-Day landings and a Japanese version of the bloody protracted war in mainland Europe? This is another one of those ‘What if’ scenarios that some historians are so fond of.
So, today, when you visit this is what you will see: Kujukuri beach is a long sandy arc for almost the entirety of its great length that begins all the way down in Cape Taito in the south up to Asahi City in the north. The beach itself is soft sand at the sea and slowly ascends up to dune grass as it approaches the sea wall. At the breakwater there are the aforementioned tetrapods but beyond this is open sea. It is a great spot for swimming and paddling and is extremely popular with surfers. During the warmer months it is also a popular barbeque and picnic spot. Obviously, during the cooler months it is a hardy soul indeed who braves the waves but a brisk wintry walk along the beach is wonderfully invigorating as is a stroll up to the Iioka Lighthouse which is open all year round.
The lighthouse was built in 1956 upon a cliff some 40 metres high. It is not a massive edifice or anything as many conjure to their mind’s eye when you mention the word ‘lighthouse’. Rather it is a modest 9.8 metres tall yet can be seen up to 25km out to sea due to its location. Well over a decade ago back in 2001 a viewing platform observatory called “Hikari no Kaze” was added to the site. This looms over the diminutive lighthouse proper. The following is the part I really liked; atop the viewing platform there is a circular walkway that affords the visitor a full panoramic view. I do not know if it is a quirk of looking or what you feel you see is actually true but it seems like you can see the world curved below you. You get a real feeling of being a small creature on the surface of a massive living globe. It took me right back to that scene in ‘Dead Poet’s Society’.
The observatory has a lower level with telescopes to look out over the bay and city and these views, whilst most worthwhile during the day these are spectacular at night. Unfortunately on my last trip I could not stay until the evening but across from the observatory is a little coffee shop called the ‘Lighthouse’ that has a good selection of the best night photographs taken from the cliff top. The coffee shop also has a specific window for serving ice cream that is almost a no-brainer purchase during the summer. Obviously during winter it is not really a thing but in recompense for this, from the cape observatory it is possible to see Mount Fuji on a clear day so as to provide the visitor with a different cold slice of ice to brighten your day.
Additional features of the observatory are a free art gallery showing works by local artists and even a playground if you have children and they get restless. On your way back home there are a number of great restaurants in Asahi City overlooking the sea and boatyard that serve delicious and inexpensive food and I would definitely recommend their seafood selections.
Access is not for the fainthearted. The nearest train stations are either Iioka station or Kurahashi on the Sobu Main line from Tokyo. It is a fair walk of about 7 km from either of these. I would recommend getting a bus from Iioka station to the coast and going along the beach before hiking up to the cliff top. If you are so inclined, this is a great destination for travelling in a rent-a-car especially when coupled with a day/weekend at the beach. During the summer a good number of families and surfers camp out near the beach and these are fantastic ways to make new friends and get a slice of the not usually seen Japanese ‘wild side’ in the wild. For more information you can visit their website which is in Japanese.