Ocean beaches, ski slopes go indoors in Japan

June 15, 1993|By New York Times News Service

YOKOHAMA, Japan -- Beachgoing season is here and Norio Tsubokawa is sitting on the sand by the water's edge with his wife and daughter, watching body surfers ride the waves. It is a typical summer scene except for a few details -- the "sand" is made from concrete and rubber, the waves are made by machine, and the entire "beach" and "ocean" are inside a huge building.

Wild Blue Yokohama, complete with plastic palm trees, is one of several indoor beaches that have recently opened or are being built in Japan. In a nation where most of the natural coastline has been paved over or filled in, and where the great outdoors is hard to reach from the big cities, people can now experience what might be called the "great indoors" instead.

"This is prettier than the beaches near Tokyo," Mr. Tsubokawa says. "We know it's man-made, but we still like to come here and have a good time."

Beachgoing is not the only activity that is being moved indoors in Japan. In July, the world's largest indoor ski center will open in a suburb of Tokyo, a giant wedge of a building that juts into the sky next to a railroad station and which is cooled like a refrigerator. The ski center contains two chairlifts and a slope long and steep enough to entertain a regulation competition in the parallel slalom.

Other countries also have some indoor sports arenas, but Japan seems unmatched in its desire to mimic nature in a warehouse. "I've been told that only Japanese would be crazy enough to build such a thing," says Yasunobu Inubashiri, senior manager for marketing at the new indoor ski palace.

One reason for the boom is that in Japan getting to a real beach or ski slope can take hours of driving through huge traffic jams.

But the secret attraction of these places appears to be the very aspect that might seem to be their biggest drawback -- their antiseptic quality.

"I don't get dirty and I don't get suntanned," says Yuko Hara, 25, who came with her husband to try out Wild Blue Yokohama even though they live near a famous surfing beach outside Tokyo.

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