Sail across stunning seascapes
Sailing is all about using the wind to propel the craft. The weather conditions of the day—wind direction and currents in particular—have a huge influence on strategy, so sailing revolves around teaming up with mother nature.
Japanese people started sailing yachts at the end of the 19th century, making it a relatively recent form of recreation. However, since Japan is an archipelago surrounded by the sea, it’s the perfect location for seafaring activities.
There are marinas and schools all over the country fully equipped with facilities and equipment for sailing. They have a range of crafts, from dinghies to large cruisers, and offer both trial lessons for beginners and various rental services for seasoned sailors.
Set off on your sailing expeditions to encounter dolphins, flying fish, beautiful sunsets, and lots of adventure!
Sailing craft come in a variety of sizes and shapes, but there are two main types: Dinghies operated by one or two people and cruisers equipped with cabins.
Dinghy types require you to jump into the sea to push the boat out from the beach, which means you will be knee-deep in the water. It’s best to wear athletic clothing that you don’t mind getting wet. In summer, opt for swimsuits and shorts with marine shoes or water-resistant sneakers. Avoid wearing flip-flops since they come off easily.
A common point of caution for both dinghy and cruiser types is that ocean winds can be quite cold. Since sailing involves a lot of movement, like changing the direction of the sails, it’s a good idea to wear thin leggings or a long-sleeved rash guard even in summer to protect yourself from abrasions and prevent sunburn. When the weather is cold, you can rent a wetsuit or drysuit from schools and stores that offer trial lessons. For UV protection, put on a hat and sunglasses—get ones with straps so that they don’t get blown away. A waterproof camera can be a great addition.
Enoshima Island has a circumference of just 4 km, but it’s one of the leading sailing hubs in Japan. The Enoshima Yacht Harbor was developed as the sailing venue for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, so this will be the second time for it to host the Games.
Enoshima has a long history. From the 8th to 12th century, Buddhist monks practiced asceticism in the area, while in the Kamakura period (1185-1333), samurai came to pray for victory in battle. This scenic island was also depicted in woodblock prints from the Edo period (1603-1868).
It takes just over an hour by train from central Tokyo to Katase Enoshima Station on the Odakyu Line. From the station, you can walk the bridge leading to the island in around five minutes. Other attractions in Enoshima include a shrine and a lighthouse with an observation deck. Don’t forget to try the local specialties—grilled turban shells and whitebait rice bowls. You’ll find many stores specializing in marine sports on the island and in nearby beaches.
The Shonan Marine Education and Sports Promotion Association (Enoshima Chotto Yacht Beach Marina), located on Katase Higashihama beach on the east side of the island, offers a three-hour hands-on course for visitors that covers various steps from assembling equipment to sailing in the open sea.
Hayama is the birthplace of yachting in Japan. Hayama Port is located near the border between Zushi City and Hayama Town, and houses a sail-shaped monument that shares the history of how yachting came to Japan in the late 19th century. The area is also home to several university yacht clubs, and both the Hayama marinas* and Zushi marinas serve as bases for seafaring activities. There’s a morning market open every Sunday.
The proximity of the mountains to Hayama prevented urbanization at a large scale, in contrast to neighboring areas. This gives the area a relaxing, laid-back vibe. You’ll find many interesting beaches, such as Isshiki Beach where the Emperor’s villa is located. Morito Beach, a 20-minute bus ride from Zushi Station, is a bustling spot dotted with cafes and restaurants. Located nearby is the Hayama Sailing College. It offers classes all-year-round, ranging from one-off sailing lessons for novices to courses for experienced sailors looking to improve their skills.
Sailing here will give you fantastic views of the sea with Mount Fuji in the backdrop. It’s the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the beaches.
Lake Biwa is the largest freshwater lake in Japan. It has long been a busy water transportation hub leading to Kyoto, and the surrounding area is packed with places of interest like historical sites, temples and shrines. It’s also a great base for water sports.
Since the waves and winds are calmer compared to the ocean, Lake Biwa is the perfect place for beginners to try their hand at sailing. A three-hour sailing course is available from Marina Okoto in Otsu, the largest city in Shiga Prefecture, located on the southwest side of lake. Participants are asked to put on life jackets and taught how to maneuver the boat, set sails and discern the wind direction by an experienced staff member. Up to five people are allowed on a single boat, and it’s possible to participate alone.
The marina also has a clubhouse terrace, swimming pool, barbecue deck, and other recreational facilities where you can kick back after sailing.
Head to the coral rich waters around the secluded Ishigaki Island for a traditional-style sailing expedition. Sabani are traditional wooden sailboats that were used for fishing and transporting supplies. The sails catch the wind and oars are used to propel the boat. The wooden planks are joined together with nails made with bamboo instead of iron and fundo—wooden counterweights. Shark liver oil (or mackerel liver oil in Okinawa) was applied in the past to prevent the wood from corroding.
Sabani boats fell into decline with the spread of engines, but they’ve been making a comeback in recent years thanks to eco-tourism. Yoshida Sabani Shipbuilding in Kuura Village uses traditional techniques to build these crafts. They also offer child-friendly sabani tours and sunset expeditions around the Hirakubo Peninsula. Set aside one to two hours for the tour. Take the opportunity to learn more about the traditional culture of Ishigaki Island and the rich Okinawan seas.
The Kujukushima Islands are a popular tourist destination in Nagasaki, Kyushu. A beautiful and intricate rias coastline along with 208 islands covers 25 km of sea from Sasebo Bay to the north of Hirado. All except four of the islands are uninhabited, and most of the area was designated part of the Saikai National Park in 1955. More than 80% of the 288.5 km coastline has been preserved as natural beaches.
The base for sightseeing in the area is the Kujukushima Pearl Sea Resort. It has a visitor center, restaurants, an aquarium, and souvenir shops. You can take a cruise on a catamaran that can accommodate up to 30 people. In addition, you’ll find cruises that offer gourmet meals made with locally produced ingredients prepared right in front of you by professional chefs. You can also opt for a more casual course with tea and sweets, or head out to sea to watch the sunset.
Set some time aside to go sightseeing in Sasebo, a bustling port town which formerly served as naval port. It’s close by, and offers tradition with an international touch.
If sailing seems like a challenge, opt for a refreshing cruise instead—you’ll find a rich variety of sightseeing cruises all around Japan.
Those looking to spend quality time with their loved ones can book a sunset cruise. The Luminous Kobe 2, a restaurant cruise that departs from Kobe, offers glittering evening views, while the Symphony Cruise lets you observe the beautiful Tokyo skyline from Tokyo Bay.
In Okinawa, you can catch a stunning sunset aboard the Moby Dick ship. Cruises to the factory areas of Yokohama and Yokkaichi in Aichi Prefecture are also popular for unique night views created by illuminated industrial complexes.
Sea Stations are port and leisure hubs for travelers visiting by cruiser or sightseeing boats. They provide facilities for mooring, repairing and refueling boats, and are equipped with restrooms and water supplies. Recently, many have started to promote local attractions—you can spot fresh local seafood markets, restaurants that specialize in tuna dishes, accommodations, hot spring facilities, and even events and activities like fishing and marine sports. Some sea stations give visitors a chance to try their hand at sailing.
There are 172 stations in Japan, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, and more than 10 in the Tokyo Bay area alone. Sea stations can be accessed from the land as well, so they’re the perfect place for a short seaside excursion from the city. In summer, you can enjoy a BBQ at the station’s beach area or join a guided fishing tour to catch seasonal fish.