All at sea
Hang ten: Niijima
is Tokyo' hottest surfing spot
shortage of fun in the sun if you know where to look. Beach bums Simeon Paterson and Stacy Hughes investigate.
The coast stretching north and south of Tokyo Bay is a profusion of peninsulas, estuaries
and beaches offering an abundance of options for surf, fun and sun during the coming
summer meltdown. While the term "beach" might, in some instances, be an
overstatement, with roads and concrete ramparts crowding much of the coastline, sandy
havens are within striking distance of the city center. Whether its surfing, swimming,
windsurfing, scuba diving, partying or taking the kids for a walk that floats your boat,
we've got just the strand for it.
Tokyo beach talk often circles around Kanagawa and the dirty rock at its crown, Shonan.
But if you don't mind scorching black volcanic sand and are willing to put in extra
traveling time, Kujukurihama, a 60km stretch of Pacific coast in northern Chiba, is
spacious enough for you to spread out your towels, slather up and take a long stroll at
sunset if the mood takes you.
Farther south, Onjuku, with its white sands and mild surf, is one of the most picturesque
shores. Busy beachfront cafés have a commercial reason to keep the area cleaner and will
feed and water the laziest of sun worshippers until 6pm. The surf is not great here,
however, which is good news for swimmers who don't like dodging 6ft fiberglass
projectiles. When you start to look and feel like a steamed lobster, climb the nearby hill
and pay your respects at the Mexican Memorial, and, more importantly, enjoy the view. When
it's time to hide in the shade, Oike is something of an institution for local surfers in
search of hearty sustenance. Mama-san and her English-speaking daughter serve up tasty
teishoku (rice sets) and tremendous tuna steak, varying in size from regular to vast
depending on the fisherman's luck. On the edge of Onjuku (coming by car from the north),
it's on the right before the short tunnel leading to the town itself.
Access: JR Sotobo line (slow but cheap), Boso Express train (a
marvel-English announcements, big comfy seats but double the normal fare). Get off at
Onjuku station. The beach is a five-ten minute walk away. Most people access Kujukurihama
by car, but summer traffic can extend a two-hour journey into five or six hours. To avoid
the jams, take the Sotobo line to Oami stn and change to the Togane line, which goes to
Kujukuri town. From there, it's easy to catch buses to several beaches along the strand.
Choshi, between Kujukuri and Onjuku, is another Chiba highlight. For outdoors types
there's a free, if basic, campsite just off the beach. There's also a lighthouse you can
ascend-for a small fee. The locality is a pleasant place for a wander, and the shore is a
combination of sandy and rocky coastline, so the kids can torment crabs in rock pools or
bury a sleeping dad under a sand mountain. A beautiful alternative farther south is
Moriya, a ten-min walk north from Katsura station. This hidden cove has none of the waves
that might drag little ones out into the Pacific. You can swim to the very photogenic
torii on a rocky outcrop that becomes an island at high tide.
Later in the season, kids of all ages are sure to enjoy the Enoshima Hanabi Taikai
fireworks extravaganza, which features 3800 incendiary blasts over the beach. Get there
early, as last year more that 130,000 people packed the area. Izu is another option for
tots, who can feed and swim with the resident dolphins at Shimoda Kaichusuizoku
(reservations for feeding are essential). There are also pools where you can frolic with
seals and penguins.
Access: Enoshima fireworks display is July 25, 7:30-8:30pm. Nearest stn:
Katase Enoshima. Shimoda is on the JR Tokaido line and the Odakyu line. Shimoda
Kaichusuizoku, 3-22-31 Shimoda-shi (tel: 0558-22-3567), open 9am-5pm; take the bus from
Many young surfer-types make the trip to Shonan simply to register their cars to get the
"cool" Shonan kanji on their license plates. But serious buffs head elsewhere
for bigger, cleaner waves they don't have to fight for. We once counted about 100 boards
in a stretch of water just 300m-long, with less than a foot of surf. A little extra travel
time makes for a much more enjoyable day in the drink.
A day of decent wave-catching can be had on Chiba's various shores, although some are
better than others. South of Choshi (itself very worthy since it has beaches facing
several directions), one of the most popular locations is Taito, with Ohara and Iioka
further down the peninsula. Though the surf survives by squeezing through the gaps, the
aesthetics of much of this stretch of coast is intermittently spoiled by tetrapod coastal
erosion/tsunami prevention (read: bloated public works contracts). Hebara, the next main
beach south of Onjuku, is justifiably but uncomfortably surfer-packed. In good swell,
especially typhoon season (autumn-you were warned), the break about 30min south of Onjuku,
called Malibu, is worth a look, although not a sure thing.
Kamogawa (not to be confused with its similarly pronounced Shonan cousin) is a nice beach,
though the town itself lacks its neighbors' fishing village charm. It has some of the
biggest waves in Chiba-they can sometimes dump near the shoreline and have quite a strong
rip-current, so watch the little ones if they go for a paddle. Come on a weekday and you
may be sharing the water with the local high school's surfing club. For landlubbers
there's the Kamogawa Seaworld, if watching big fish (ok, mammals) perform tricks is your
thing. For the adventurous with a lot of time on their hands, there's the famously archaic
Kominato line (two carriages and manual doors) that crawls from Goi to Ohara through the
pretty Yoro valley.
Unlike many other countries, there aren't surf schools actually on the beach here, but Rip
Curl in Funabashi has classes a few times a week and will bus you to the Pacific. Call
(0474-32-1100) a few days in advance to reserve a space and find out prices and times,
which can vary. Some staff speak English, but there's no guarantee they will be teaching
Access: Choshi, Taito, Ohara and Iioka are all on the Sotobo line and are
either walking distance or a short bus ride from the station. The Uchibo line runs from
Chiba city to Goi. The Kominato line runs from Goi to Ohara through the Yoro valley.
Kamogawa Seaworld (1464-18 Higashimachi, Kamogawa-shi) is open 9am-5pm daily (tel:
Swimming in one of
Niijima's crystal capes
The perfect wave
The Izu islands deserve a mention not only because they are technically in Tokyo, but
because they have some of the best waves in Japan, excellent lodging at minshuku
and ryokkan (inns), tasty local seafood and even a free onsen on the beach.
Before you make a beeline to the breakers, check out the Niijima beach cam (www.niijima.com/camera) for
surfing conditions. In season, and when nearby Miyakejima's volcano is behaving itself -
it didn't last year - Niijima, the most popular island, can get crowded - its nickname nanpa-jima
(pick-up island) says it all. Out of season, the place is peaceful, and although
accommodations are cheaper, it becomes even trickier to hire a board - strangely a
challenge in surfing-crazed Japan. The islands are practical as a weekend trip (to
lengthen your stay without running into Monday, catch the three-hour boat to Shimoda or
Atami on return and then the train), and they offer pretty beaches, onsen, hilltop views,
and Commodore Perry's famed Black Ship. With Ryosenji temple, the site of Commodore
Perry's treaty-signing, and a small tribute to sex in religious art - one of the more
informative and tastefully presented round-ups of erotica around - give Izu's Shimoda a
Access: Niijima is a 45min flight from Chofu Airport (tel: Shin Chuo Koku
at 0422-31-4191). Ferries depart every night at 11pm from Takeshiba Pier near JR
Hamamatsucho stn. When heading there, be sure to board the boat ASAP so that you get a
space on the floor inside the ferry. The deck might seem pleasantly cool at the 11pm
departure from Hamamatsucho, but eight hours later it'll be downright cold. Call Tokai
Kisen Co., Ltd. Information (03-5472-9999) or reservations (03-5472-9009). Worth checking
out is www.surfersite.com
(Japanese, though some of the people running it speak English). Ryosenji is open
8:30am-5pm daily, admission JY500, closed during the obon and New Year holidays.
Although many windsurfers brave the murky waters of Odaiba, Kamakura and Onjuku, there are
cleaner options. If you're thinking of taking up the sport, reputable lessons are
available from Seven Seas at Zaimokuza beach, Kamakura. A four-hour lesson from them will
cost you JY7000 (or JY10,000 for two) including board rental, and as with all the schools,
reserve at least a day or more in advance. Sakanoshita Beach, also in Kamakura, sports
lessons from the nattily named Wili-Wili windsurf people, from whom six hours of
instruction, starting 10am, can be had for JY8000. Zushi beach, on Tokyo Bay, is served by
Zushi Windsurf School. A one-day lesson, starting at 10am, is JY8000 for beginners and
JY10,000 for the competent. Board rental only is JY2500. The beach is a ten-minute walk
from Zushi station.
Access: Take the Yokosuka line to Kamakura stn and then the bus to
Zaimokuza beach. To get to Sakanoshita take the Enoden line from Kamakura to Hase stn.
Zushi stn is on the Yokosuka line.
Seven Seas (tel: 0120-14-1315); email: email@example.com
Wili-Wili (tel: 04767-24-4908); email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Zushi Windsurf School (tel: 0120-71-1173); email: email@example.com
Doing sports while baking in the sun is foolish, but for fools of a volleyballing
disposition Hiratsuka, a little further south in Shonan, is a good spot. If you really
want to give yourself dehydration, show up at midday on a weekend to increase the
likelihood of having to wait for one of several courts. Onjuku in Chiba also has courts on
the beach and two summer tournaments, though they aren't in as good condition. Many
beaches will already have the poles set up, so just roll up your net and head to the sand.
Access: Hiratsuka stn is on the JR Tokaido line.
|Catching the wind at Odaiba
If you fancy downing a brew on the beach to the sound of some music, try the Enoshima
Beach party (about JY1000) or the Sputnik party (free) at the Tsujido Kaigan. Sputnik,
open every day starting in July, is a well-attended little get-together featuring live
music, skateboard half-pipe action, a chill-out tent and, this being Japan, trance DJs.
They also burn an enormous wooden effigy at their final party, the last Saturday in
August, in an entertaining rip-off of the American Burning Man festival. Enoshima is known
as a pick-up venue for young Japanese, so grown-ups will probably prefer the Sputnik
event, which is not fenced in, allowing for a romantic stroll through sand dunes. Enoshima
cafe also has events worth checking out. Other than that, word of mouth is the best way to
find out about the other beach parties happening during the summer.
Access: Tsujido Kaigan is a 20 min walk from Tsujido stn on the JR
Tokaido line. www.sputnik.ac/beach.html
If you're into scuba diving, you might be better saving your pennies for a trip out of
Japan-or at least Okinawa - since Kanto's waters are colder and have lower visibility. But
if time is short, most people head to Izu or Chiba - especially Kanaya, where the Kurihama
ferry docks. Lessons with native English speakers are offered by Tokyo-based Pacific
Adventure Diving, though they don't really organize trips locally. A referral course,
which you finish with a separate open water test in nearby Micronesia, is JY35,000, and
doing the full monty in Tokyo is a cool JY80,000. Also check out www.tokyoscuba.com (tel:
0426-702769), who organize trips to Izu-Osezaki, Kumomi, Motosu, Mikamoto-and speak a
variety of languages, including Serbo-Croat!
Access: Kurihama stn is on the Uchibo line. Pacific Adventure Diving
(tel: 03-3722-1393); email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In the buff
Rumor has it there's a semi-nude beach at Inage Kaigan, walking distance from the station
of the same name on the Chiba-bound Keiyo line. Quite a gay affair, and it's certainly not
an officially sanctioned clothing-optional spot. More off-putting than the authorities
catching up with you is the water - the beach is on the grubbiest end of an already grubby
Tokyo Bay - but most of the guys looking for a lay in the sun probably aren't bothered.
Access: Inage Kaigan is on the Keiyo line