Summer has arrived in Japan! It’s time for sweating while eating matcha ice cream cones, sweating watching fireworks and sweating in your yukata while drinking ice-cold beer. Luckily, because of Japan’s geography, you are never far from a fresh dip in the ocean.
Getting out of the city and to a beautiful beach is easy in Japan
When I first moved to Japan, I equated “beach” with Thailand or the Philippines, but then I saw the light. Japan has beautiful beaches with clean water, and they are accessible by public transit—perfect for when the sweaty city is too much.
Shimoda on the Izu Peninsula is a beautiful spot for a beach break
What to expect
Japanese beaches are as Japanese, as, well, everything in Japan. Most beaches have well-maintained public toilets, clean sand, and the most popular have lifeguards during the swimming season. While the ocean is warm enough to swim from early May through late September (or later), the official swimming season runs from mid-July to the end of August.
During this period, there will be more services available at all beaches -- lifeguards, beach shacks selling snacks and drinks, chair and parasol rentals, and water sports shops. If the weather is good, many venues start their season earlier but come September, the season is over and most of the services and shops shut down until next summer. Don’t worry—the sea is just as beautiful, but you’ll have the sand to yourself—there won’t be lifeguards, and you will probably want to bring a picnic. Keep in mind that beachgoers should take their trash home (there are usually no public trash cans), and be mindful of alcohol, campfire, smoking, and tattoo regulations.
Japan's shores can rival those of better known beach destinations
The best of Japan’s beaches are a bit of a (very worthwhile) trek—Ishigaki in Okinawa, the beaches of Kagoshima prefecture, Shirahama on the Kii Peninsula, and Shimoda at the tip of the Izu Peninsula, which are all best considered a destination and not a day trip. But day trips are just as doable—an early start, a hot day in the sun, dipping in the ocean, lazing on an inflatable raft, sand in between the toes (and everywhere else), and then a tired train ride back home once the sun has set. Here’s where to go to wash that city grime off in some clear waters.
Shirahama on the Kii Peninsula is well worth a weekend's exploration
Tokyo & Yokohama
Tokyo and Yokohama both have excellent beach options. Enoshima and Zushi are both easy finds, and just a little more than an hour from Tokyo. Enoshima has two wide, long beaches called Kugenuma and Chigasaki that have a Hawaiian surfer vibe, with beach bars and restaurants, surfing equipment rental, good sand, clean water, and on clear days, views of Mt Fuji in the distance.
Zushi has a similar vibe—a stretch of clean sand with tons of weekend swimmers from Tokyo, with beach bars that turn into nightclubs as the sun goes down. Be aware that Zushi has attempted to ban tattooed visitors from sunbathing at the beach—be aware if this might affect you. For sun seekers looking for a quieter experience, twenty minutes from Zushi Station by bus is Hayama-Isshiki beach, surrounded by rock formations and pine trees, a tranquil afternoon by the sea. Kamakura combines nature and culture: nothing feels quite as good as doing the Daibutsu hiking trail that connects the Big Buddha to the sea and then celebrating with some cool waves. Kamakura beaches have beach bars, plenty of food options, and sports equipment rental. A bit further afield is Onjuku and Moriya beaches, both facing east from Chiba and featuring wide, white sandy beaches that are chilled out even at the height of the summer season. Onjuku gets some surfable waves, while Moriya is a great swimming beach. Both beaches have public facilities. There are a few beach bars and some lifeguarding presence during the season, but you’ll have the beach mostly to yourself outside of that. Onjuku and Moriya (Kazuza-Okitsu is the train station, two stops down from Onjuku) are 90 minutes from Toyko station by express train.
Lake Biwa makes a fantastic alternative to the beach
The Kansai region (Osaka/Kobe/Kyoto) has its fair share of summer spots. Kobe has a city beach just west of the main Sannomiya train station—Tarumi beach. In summer it’s packed with people catching some rays and having a dip in the middle of Kobe. Isonoura and Kata beaches both sit in Wakayama prefecture just south of Osaka on the Kii Peninsula, about 90 minutes by train from Osaka Station. Isonoura is a classic Japanese beach experience: great people watching, beachside barbecue restaurants, beach bars, and lots of people. Kata is a few stations further and is a quieter beach with shallow waters. Kyoto has a secret ace in its back pocket: Lake Biwa. Often overlooked in the search for seaside-delights, Omi-Maiko provides beautiful freshwater beaches on Lake Biwa just 40 minutes from Kyoto Station. Grab some wood from a shop along the beach and use one of the free public barbecues along the lake to grill up a late afternoon lunch before a dip in the clean waters.
No matter where you are in Japan when the summer gets too much, grab your towel and head for some water—it’s closer than you think.
About the author
Brock has lived in both the Kansai and Tokyo areas for more than six years, so he has his fair share of sweaty summers under his belt. He’s become an expert in finding some quiet nature to dip into on the weekends, knowing that you have to balance all-you-can-drink karaoke with fresh air.