FEATURE
All at sea


Hang ten: Niijima is Tokyo' hottest surfing spot
Marco Mancini

There's no 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.

Hanging out
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 caf├ęs 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.

Family fun
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 Shimoda stn.

Eriko Yoshida

Surf's up
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 the class.

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: 0470-92-2121).

Swimming in one of Niijima's crystal capes
Marco Mancini

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 try.

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.

Windsurfing
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: sevenseas@ma.neweb.ne.jp   website: www1.neweb.ne.jp/wa/sevenseas  

Wili-Wili (tel: 04767-24-4908); email: info@wiliwili.com website: www.wiliwili.com

Zushi Windsurf School (tel: 0120-71-1173); email: cb@j-wind.com website: www.j-wind.com/zushi/

Volleyball
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
Georgia Jacobs

Beach party
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  

Deep blue
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: pad@mc.catv.ne.jp  

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


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