Let's hit the beach in Japan!
Editor's Note: Whether you are staying on the island or heading to the mainland, there are a lot of great beaches in Japan. So, grab your swimsut and head off base!
Omi Maiko Beach
A freshwater beach on the Japan’s biggest lake
Omi Maiko Beach is a three-mile-long crescent-shaped sandbank that’s ideal for an overnight trip for splashing in crystal-clear waters, and taking in breathtaking natural beauty. This beach has been known since ancient times as one of the scenic “Eight Views of Lake Biwa” due to its white sands and blue pine trees against the backdrop of the Hira Mountains.
Omi Maiko is the most popular of the lake’s 22 beaches, drawing about 64,000 people every summer. The merits of freshwater swimming include not needing to immediately shower off saltwater afterward, and increased safety for small children because there are no high ocean waves. However, as freshwater is less buoyant than seawater, young swimmers may want to bring floats and goggles.
Throughout summer swimming season lifeguards are on duty, and safety buoys are on sight that swimmers should go beyond after 5 p.m. If you are planning a barbecue on this beach, since it is located near pine trees, you need to look out for fires.
This beach is open for swimmers between July 1 and Aug. 31, 8 a.m to 5 p.m. A fireworks show that is expected to draw 25,000 people is scheduled for July 27. Besides swimming, windsurfing and barbecuing, you can also enjoy playing tennis, fishing and hiking around the beach. Camping is available and there are 16 “minshuku,” or Japanese-style bed-and-breakfasts inns, along the beach.
Location: Minami Komatsu, Otsu-shi, Shiga Prefecture
By car: 40 minutes (on R.161) from Otsu IC of Meishin Expressway (about 5 hours from Tokyo)
By train: JR Omi Maiko Station of Kosai line (30 minutes from Kyoto).
For Camping and barbeque call Omi Maiko Nakahama Camping Village at 077-596-0520. For inn reservations and other information, call Shiga Travelers Association at 077-592-0378.
A unique lagoon in Ocean Expo Park
Emerald Beach is a large Y-shaped coral sand beach in the northern part of Ocean Expo Park. It is the only beach in Okinawa with a lagoon. Japan’s Ministry of the Environment rates its water quality “AA” – the best possible – and has dubbed one of the nation’s top 100 beaches.
Like the park, there is no admission fee for the beach, which is divided into three parts: for “playing,” “rest” and “landscape.” In all, the beach can accommodate up to 3,000 people.
Lifeguards are on duty throughout the swimming season. A variety of beach equipment such as parasols, lounge chairs, and coin lockers are available for rent. A free shower facility and rest rooms are also available, making this an ideal beach for family with small children.
Unlike most other beaches, Emerald offers a bonus: Shuttle bus service is available for 200 yen ($2) a day to take visitors to other attractions within Ocean Expo Park. These include Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, Dolphin Show Stadium, Tropical Dream Center, Ocean Culture Museum and Native Okinawan Village (each has its own admission fee policy).
The park also hosts the Ocean Expo Firework Festival, the largest firework festival in Okinawa, every summer. The event, whose 2013 schedule has yet to be determined, draws tens of thousands of participants every year.
Location: Ocean Expo Park - 424 Ishikawa, Motobu-cho, Okinawa (2 hours from Naha Airport)
By car: From Naha Airport → Route 231 → (Urasoe) (Kadena Air Base)→Route 58 (Ona)→(Nago) →Route 449→ Route 114. Parking is free.
By bus: From the Naha airport or bus terminal, take Highway Bus No.111 and transfer to Regular Route Bus Nos. 65, 66 or 70 at Nago Bus Terminal. Exit at Commemorative Park. (From Naha City, transfer at Nago.) About three hours.
Beach hours of operation: April-September, 8:30 a.m.- 7 p.m.; October, 8:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. Admission is free.
For more information, call 0980-48-2741 or visit: oki-park.jp/en/inst/eme.html
Chirihama Nagisa Driveway
The road most traveled – by beachgoers
Love to drive – and the beach? Chirihama Nagisa Driveway is a unique beach in Ishikawa Prefecture offering the rare opportunity to drive its 5-mile shoreline. Cruising this beautiful Noto Peninsula beach in a quasi-national park amid the cool sea breeze is an unforgettable experience.
It’s not only four-wheel-drive and SUV vehicles that frequent this beach. Virtually anything on wheels, from bicycles, motorcycles and mini-cars to large sightseeing buses, can drive on this smooth sandy motorway 24 hours a day. The natural roadway is the result of hard-packed fine beach sand and seawater.
Stretching along the west coast of the peninsula, this beach has stunning sunsets that make for ideal romantic strolls and drives alike. On summer nights, the mysterious glow of numerous lamps from squid-fishing boats highlight an equally frequented offshore waterway.
This beach road is toll-free and has no traffic regulations. So, you can drive anywhere on the beach, even along the shoreline. Since the tidal range is very low, you can even park near the shoreline, take a swim and have a barbeque.
Chirihama Nagisa is great daytrip from Tokyo. About a 30- to 40-minute drive from the famous castle town of Kanazawa, there are nearby camps and hotel facilities as well. So you can plan an overnight campout or stay in town and take in some of the local cultural attractions on your way back home.
The beach officially opens to swimmers July 10, and will host a jet-ski contest July 13-15. The Chirihama Sand Festival is Aug. 3-4 and features a variety of amazing sand sculptures that will be on display.
Location: Hakui City, Ishikawa Prefecture
By car: Near from Shirao or Chirihama IC of Noto Expressway (about 6 hours from Tokyo)
By train: JR Hakui Station (Nanao-line) (50 minutes from Kanazawa)
Camping and barbeque: Call Chirihama Rest House at 0767-22-2141.
For more information, call Hakui City Commerce, Industries and Travelers Office at 0767-22-1118 or visit: chirihama.com
Nishihara Kirakira Beach
A family-friendly beach in a marine park
Nishihara Kirakira Beach, which is located within Nishihara Marine Park, may be small but it is one of the most popular beaches in Okinawa due to its clean water and new, family-oriented facilities. The 600-yard-long beach is divided into two areas – one for swimming and one for marine sports.
The swimming beach is shallow and placid, ideal for swimmers with small children. Fish figured floats are available for free on the beach. In the marine sports beach, you can enjoy various watercraft such as banana boats and jet-skis.
The park’s facilities and equipment also include a large green field for barbequing, soccer and baseball fields and playground equipment for children. A large rest house provides indoor barbeque equipment. On the beach, there are volleyball courts and soccer goals. The beach offers plenty of free parking, making it easily accessible by all ages from toddler to senior.
Location: Nishihara Marine Park – 17 Azama-zaki, Nishihara-cho, Chuto-gun
Parking: Free (1,000 cars)
Beach hours of opperation: April-June and October, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and July-September, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Admission is free.
For more information, call 098-944-5589 or visit www.marine-park.net
Like having a private paradise
If you dream of having an entire white sand beach by yourself, I recommend that you check out Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture. The island has so much white sand, crystal-clear water, colorful coral and tropical fish to choose from that you can find beaches where you won’t see anyone at all.
Of course, that might also be because ferry service has been discontinued since the new airport opened in the spring. But either way, get to Ishigaki and beachcomb the entire island for your semi-private – or, if you prefer, busy public – piece of paradise this summer.
Akashi Beach is about a 50-minute drive north of Ishigaki City. The white sand beach extends about 3 miles and you will rarely see people here. Just set up your parasol, unpack your cooler and enjoy this slice of heaven on the earth all to yourselves. There are no bathrooms or shops on the beach, but there are shops and small restaurants in Akashi Village right behind it.
Yonehara Beach is on northern coast of the island about 30 minutes drive from town. This beach is popular destination for snorkeling and viewing some amazing coral reef and rainbows of tropical fish. A camping area is also adjacent to this beach for overnight stays.
Maezato Beach is in front of ANA Intercontinental Ishigaki Resort Hotel on the southeast side of the island. It offers great facilities, including clean showers and bathrooms. This place is highly recommended for families with small children.
Sunset Beach: is on the westcoast of the Hirakubo Peninsula, about 50 minutes drive from town. As the name suggest, you can see some unforgettable sunsets on the horizon if you are lucky. It offers beautiful white sands; showers and lockers are also available during the summer season.
By plane: New Ishigaki Airport just opened in March on the island’s east coast, about 10 miles away from Ishigaki City center. You can get a rental car to explore island. There are daily flights from Naha, Okinawa (there is no longer ferry service) as well as other Japan cities. It is about an hour flight from Naha Airport and three hours from Haneda Airport in Tokyo.
For more information, visit www.ishigaki-japan.com
Did somebody say beach party?
Shonan, along Sagami Bay in Kangawa Prefecture, encompasses several beaches that are very popular in the Tokyo area because they can be reached by train in about an hour, and are close to train stations. In the summer, these beaches are a virtual Disneyland of bayside activity and the heart of Japan’s urban beach culture.
Some of the more popular Shonan beaches include Chigasaki, Kugenuma, Enoshima, Yuigahama and Zushi. On any given summer day – from July through August – you will see beachgoers of all ages and ilk here, from chic urban elites to families to beach bums to classic surfer dudes. It is fun for everyone!
There are a variety of “uminoie,” or beach shacks, that pop up during peak summer months offering services such as showers, sundries and snackables. Of course, being close to the Big City takes a toll, and that can mean lots of litter and the water at Shonan beaches are not likely to be the clearest you’ll see in Japan.
Kugenuma Beach is popular among young crowds and “the” place to go for the beach party scene. Enoshima Aquarium is also located behind this beach, where you can see dolphin shows and all kinds of marine species.
Yuigahama Beach is legendary for having the best beach shacks in the area. There are bars, restaurants, masseurs, nail painters, yoga shacks, live entertainment and more. This year, “OTODAMA” live house will be set up featuring music gigs and other events. Public toilets are also on this beach.
By train: From Shinjuku, take the Odakyu Odawara line to Sagami-Ono, and get on the Odakyu Enoshima line. The beach is a short walk from both Fujisawa and Katase-Enoshima stations.
By car: the fastest and easiest way is to take the Tomei Expressway to the Atsugi Interchange, then take Route 246 all the way down to the beach at Route 134. Another way that isn’t as expensive, but can take longer, is Route 1 from Tokyo to Fujisawa. WARNING: Route 134, the beach road, has very bad summer traffic. Leave early, better yet, take a train. (Parking is also costly in this area during the summer.)
‘GO DOWN TO IZU’ A peninsula of white sand paradises
“Go down to Izu,” is my answer when people ask me where the best beach on Japan’s Kanto Plain is. You’ll find your favorite style of fun in the sun there.
Izu has everything for everyone: White sand beaches for beachcombers, crystal clear water for snorkelers, powerful waves for surfers, natural beauty for nature lovers – and, of course, great restaurants and cafés for foodies.
When people say “Izu,” it means the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture, about 110 miles southwest of Tokyo. The four-hour drive from Tokyo is also something to enjoy. The coastline roads around the peninsula are beautiful and have great views, which almost make you feel as if you’re on an exotic island.
Shirahama, which literally means white beach, is the first beach to check out as you drive down the coastline to Shimoda City. It is the largest and most popular beach in Izu. From July through August Shirahama is packed with young crowds and beach parties. On the beach road there are many shops selling cold drinks and food. Rental beach gear like parasols, chairs and floats are also available.
This place is also a good year-round surfing spot. The waves powerful and make good barrel sections when they get big. The best season for surfing here is August through September with southwest winds and southeast swells. (If it’s too choppy, try Tatado Beach about 20 minutes drive south of Shirahama.)
There are surf shops on the beach road that rent surfboards. For more quite visit, I recommend going to Shirahama in June and early July before the summer rush starts.
Kisami Ohama beach is located about 30 minutes south from Shirahama. This is a perfect beach for family to spend a lazy summer day under a parasol with a cooler on a wide white-sand expanse. There is also a beach shack where you can buy drinks and food. This beach is especially popular among foreigners. There are several music and sports events held at the beach during summer.
Toji Beach, next to Kisami Ohama, offers visitors the thrill of sand skiing. You can slide down a 40-meter-long natural slope of sand made by strong seasonal winds blowing inland.
Yumigahama Beach, in Minami Izu City, is also a well-known beautiful family beach that is located 20 minutes south of Shimoda. This sandy beach is good for swimming because the waters are usually very calm here.
Tsumekizaki Beach is on Shimoda City’s Suzaki Peninsula where the coastline is mostly rocky and steep. This is the one of the least-crowded areas in Shimoda. There is a 2.8-kilometer oceanfront sidewalk with dramatic views. There is also a little-known beach called Kujyuppama, which is very small but has crystal-clear emerald water where you can enjoy snorkeling. The parking lot here is a five-minute hike from the beach.
Don’t forget to check out hot springs around the Shimoda area. After a long day of sun bathing and soaking in the salty ocean, a dip in freshwater springs is quite refreshing. There are also many Japanese-style guest houses stay overnight at in the area, which is ideal way to have a memorable summer in Japan.
Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka Prefecture
By Car: From the Tokyo area, head toward Shimoda City on the Tomei Expressway to the Odawara-Atsugi Highway and then take Manazuru Highway. It is best depart early in the morning because traffic gets very bad on summer weekends. Traffic is extremely bad during Japan’s Obon week holiday, Aug.10 to 17.
By train: The simplest way is to take the Odoriko Express train from Shinjuku, Tokyo. Izukyu-Shimoda Station is the last stop. The view from the train ride is also beautiful. (About 2 hour 45 minutes from Tokyo.)
For more information, visit www.shimoda-city.info/english/sea.html
Shimoda City has strong tie with U.S. military for a long time. Its port is famed for Black Ships into which the U.S. Naval fleet led by Commodore Perry sailed in 1854. It was here that Japan finally opened up her gates to trade with the outside world as she emerged from the secluded Edo Period (1603-1867). It was here that the U.S. began its first diplomatic relations with Japan. Every May, Shimoda City hosts the Black Ship Festival in conjunction with the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. military.
Tets’ top picks in Shimoda City
Places to eat:
Spice Dog has delicious curry and pasta. The restaurant has ’70s feeling with vintage guitar and surfboard in the shop. Local musicians sometimes perform gigs at night. Dogs are allowed. 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m., closed Wednesdays. 1535-1 Kisami, Shimoda. Tel: 0558-23-2845
South Café is a cozy café offering delicious burgers in a beach-style wood shack. 12 p.m. - 10 p.m., closed Thursdays. 918-2 Kisami, Shimoda. Tel: 0558-25-5015
Sushi Sakanadonya is “kaiten-zushi”-style (“conveyor-belt”) restaurant serving the freshest sushi right across from Shimoda Harbor. The cuts of fish are huge, but if you are on a budget be sure to check out the chart on the wall that shows how much items cost according to plates they are on. Try the locally famous “kinmedai” (red snapper)! 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. - 8 p.m. Bay Stage Shimoda 2F, 1-1 Sotogaoka, Shimoda. Tel: 0558-25-5151
Places to stay:
Minshuku Tsuchiya is a Japanese-style guest house with tatami-mat floors. There is a barbeque area in the garden where you can grill local seafood and other BBQ that you bring yourself. Five minutes-walk from Ohama Beach. Price: 4,200 yen (kids 2,500 yen). 1686 Kisami, Shimoda. Tel: 0558-22-5789
Real Surf near Ohama is owned by pro surfer Naoto Suzuki. Surfboard rental price are from 3,000 yen plus tax for a day. Surf lessons are also available. 10 a.m. - 7 p.m. 1612-1 Kisami, Shimoda. Tel: 0558-27-0771 URL: realsurf.jp/2174-2
Kanaya Ryokan Senninburo Onsen is a traditional Japanese-style hot spring built in 1915. It is 45 feet long, 15 feet wide and 3 feet deep. 9 a.m. - 10 p.m. Price: 1,000 yen (elementary school student, 500 yen; child, 300 yen) 114-2, Kouchi, Shimoda