Every summer I like to hit Japan’s beaches, regardless of my enormous pasty beer-belly, my tendency to get severely sun-burned, and the fact that the beaches are overcrowded and dirtier than Paris Hilton. This is for two reasons- the plethora of wooden “beach bars” that are erected along the seafront each summer, and the hordes of women in bikinis. Life is sweet, but am I turning into Benny Hill?
Shonan beach is nearest to my house. It’s a popular summer day-trip destination for residents of Tokyo and Yokohama, attracted by the surf, outdoor music events, parties and fireworks displays. It’s a long beach running along the coast of Kanagawa, consisting of lots of smaller beaches with different names.
Enoshima is the busiest of these, especially in August when an annual fireworks event attracts about 150000 people. Locals claim Enoshima is the “Miami beach of Japan”, and although it’s too small and grubby to live up to this tag, there is an appealingly hedonistic, spring-break vibe to the place. It’s a hot-spot for trendy youngsters who go there to hang out in the summer holidays. There’s a big surfer scene despite the minuscule waves, which mainly operates as an excuse for bronzed posers to mince about in expensive wet-suits.
This is also where the orange-faced Shibuya girls go to top-up their summer tans. The ordinary girls, meanwhile, sunbathe covered in factor 50 sunblock to avoid getting a tan (which sort of defeats the object, but who’s complaining. Thank God for the invention of mirrored sunglasses!)
Speaking of which, watch out for the pervy, paparazzi-style photographers who stalk the beach with enormous telescopic lenses, looking for exposed flesh. If the lithe bikini-clad young folk don’t make you feel self-conscious stripping down to your swimwear, then the sleazebags with cameras will!
In the evening you can watch the sunset while drinking in the wooden beach bars. There are dozens of these bars lined up next to each other so it’s ideal for a bar crawl, and the inebriated holiday-makers inside are usually in high spirits. These bars are, however a bit pricey so you could choose to follow the example of the local teenagers, grab some convenience-store beers and set off fireworks on the beach.
Other beaches in the area include the slightly less-crowded Kugenuma beach, which is the home of beach-volleyball in Japan, with an annual summer tournament. Chigasaki, meanwhile, is the birthplace of Japan’s answer to the Beach Boys, The Southern Allstars. Contrary to their paeans to the place, the beach is crowded and swamped in litter, but it holds some good live music events, and a traditional festival in which a portable shrine is carried into the ocean takes place at sunset on July 20th. Yuigahama beach is a bit less dirty and has it’s own fireworks spectacle in mid August. It also has trance and reggae parties, and last year Yuigahama was host to the MTV beach bar, with daily broadcasts on MTV. There’s also Zushi beach, which has a live-house called Otodama Sea Studio on the beach, where lots of semi-famous Japanese bands perform live in the afternoons.
Alas, on September 1st the fun ends in Shonan, the lifeguards look for new jobs, the beach bars are dismantled, and everyone stops going to the beach (even if it’s still hot.)
Directions: Enoshima beach is close to Katase-Enoshima station (on the Odakyu line, about an hour by express train from Shinjuku)
Kugenuma beach is near Kugenuma-kaigan station, also on the Odakyu line, a couple of stops before Katase-Enoshima.
Chigasaki beach is about a 15 minute walk from JR Chigasaki station, about 1 hour from Tokyo station on the Tokaido line.
Yuigahama beach is about a twenty minute walk from JR Kamakura station (an hour from Tokyo station on the Yokosuka line.) Zushi beach is near Zushi station, also on the Yokosuka line.