Beach-going in Japan can be a real drag sometimes—especially if you make the mistake of joining the throngs on the crowded shores of Shonan. But if your idea of fun doesn’t involve swimming in murky, flotsam-strewn waters and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on the sand as you soak up the rays, there are other alternatives. All you have to do is head in the opposite direction.
Located on the eastern side of the Boso peninsula in Chiba prefecture, Katsuura is a quaint fishing community with a relaxed “Old Japan” feel. Surrounded by forests and dramatic cliffs, it also boasts some attractive—and mercifully crowd-free—beaches.
There’s a clean, well-kept municipal beach in the center of the town, but for a real treat, take a 10-15 minute walk north to Hebara Beach. This 2km stretch of sand has impressive breakers and plenty of elbow room. National surfing contests are often held here, but even on those days the beach doesn’t feel crowded. Lying on the opposite side of the peninsula from Tokyo, the water is clear enough to go snorkeling—not something you’d ever be able to say about Shonan. You can do your picnic shopping in town or across the street from the beach, and the city fathers recently installed a convenient free parking lot, complete with toilets and showers.
If you’d like a break from the sand and surf, take a stroll around the town. Katsuura has a small main street and some inviting temples and shrines, many of them perched on hills that offer impressive views of the ocean. Tomisaki Shrine sits at the top of one particularly grueling flight of stairs, which in February and March is used to display some 1,200 ornamental dolls as part of the local Hinamatsuri celebrations. The shrine is also the focus of the town’s autumn festival in mid-September, when you can expect the requisite mikoshi and generous lashings of sake, accompanied by repeated exhortations from the locals to join in. At night, the sky erupts into an extended fireworks display.
The area east of town is a series of clay cliffs and coves that harbor traditional fishing hamlets. Head towards the Taisho-era lighthouse and you’ll find a series of paved roads and viewing points, and maybe even catch a glimpse of some wild monkeys, pigs or deer. Way above, eagles ride the thermals, keeping an eye on you. To the south, meanwhile, you can get intimate with the local sea life at the Kaichukoen, a giant conning tower that lets you plunge eight meters underwater without getting wet. Trust us: the kids will love it.
Katsuura is perhaps best known for its asa-ichi morning market, where crafts and trinkets are sold alongside locally grown produce, freshly caught seafood and the ubiquitous dried fishy snacks. Though the prices are already extremely reasonable, haggling is also permitted. The market is held twice monthly on weekends, and is open until around 11am.
At the end of the day, head to the Mikazuki Hotel near the post office and take a dip at their Aqua Palace. With an array of hot tubs, heated pools and saunas, this water park is ideal for melting your stresses away while chatting with friends—in other words, exactly what a trip to the ocean should be about.
The Wakashio limited express takes 90 minutes from Tokyo to Katsuura station (¥3,900). For a cheaper option, take the JR Keiyo line to Soga, then change to the JR Sotobo line (¥1,890, approx. two-and-a-half hours). By car, take the Aqualine to Kisarazu-kita IC, then follow routes 409 and 297 to Katsuura. This year’s autumn festival will be held from September 18 to 22.