Just a few minutes down the road from Kamakura’s big Buddha is a beach area that all Tokyoites should be familiar with. Shonan, the st11retch of coastline along the northern part of Sagami Bay, is where I find my summer solace.
Shonan is so popular that it is often featured in TV shows, songs and movies—“The OC” of Japan, perhaps. The band Shonan no Kaze croons about the beach and surfing lifestyle in their songs. In 2006, the popular TV drama Taiyo no Uta (“Song to the Sun”) starred a girl musician who lived in the area. And last year, a movie called Catch a Wave, featuring Japanese actor Naoto Takenaka, told the story of three boys who came to Shonan for the summer—and captured the hearts of young women nationwide, leading to a torrent of visitors flooding the area’s boardwalk.
My first trip around the area was on a mountain bike. I followed a path that runs along most of the beach from the Sagami River all the way to Kamakura. Covered in some places by wind-blown sand, the path was an excellent way to see much of what this spot southwest of Yokohama has to offer. From around mid-June through the end of September, Shonan is immensely popular with young folks who flock for the sun ‘n’ surf by day and beach parties by night.
The waves are suited more to novice surfers, not unlike the long, rolling break at Waikiki in Hawaii. Riding them is possible (and popular) all 12 months of the year. Several area shops offer board rentals and lessons. Along with big surf companies like Billabong and Quiksilver, there are some cool local businesses like The USA Surf Shop, The Longboard Factory, Coast Line and CCC Surf. I stopped in several stores and each one carried the essential gear.
The employees, as locals, were able to tell me the best spots and the best times to paddle out. The sea is divided into areas for swimming, windsurfing, kite surfing and traditional wave riding.
A ways down, the skate park is worth checking out. Located just off the beach, it offers the thrill of riding concrete instead of waves. Enoshima Island is a popular tourist spot as well. Nearly 600m off the coast, it has shrines, a botanical garden and the Panoramic Tower—which, on a clear day, offers views of Mt. Fuji worthy of an ukiyo-e woodblock print.
On the way back, I checked out the 8,000 species of fish housed within Enoshima Aquarium, located just a few minutes from Katase-Enoshima train station. I browsed the “Sagami Bay” exhibit, featuring creatures of the area, and also stuck around to check out the dolphin show. Although the trainers speak in Japanese, it was easy enough to understand what was happening once the dolphins started doing their thing.
Shonan will be especially popular in the weeks after Ocean Day on July 16, which is the national holiday officially marking the start of Japan’s beach season. Following this, the Enoshima Fireworks Festival is one of the biggest events on the area’s calendar (this year happening August 8). Exploding over 5,000 fireworks, the hour-long show should be on any Tokyoite’s summer to-do list. Be warned, however, that crowds in previous years have reached 150,000 people.
The beach community of Shonan is by no means all that the Sagami Bay coast has to offer. Kamakura, to the east, has its own attractions. Oiso and Odawara, to the west, offer seaside activities as well. One thing is certain: summer just isn’t long enough to do all that Tokyo’s OC has to offer.
From Shinjuku, take the Odakyu Odawara line to Sagami-Ono, and get on the Odakyu Enoshima line. The beach is a short walk from both Fujisawa and Katase-Enoshima stations. By car, the fastest and easiest way is to take the Tomei Expressway to the Atsugi Interchange, then take Route 246 all the way down to the beach at Route 134. Another way that isn’t as expensive, but can take longer, is Route 1 from Tokyo to Fujisawa. Although Shonan is certainly an easy day trip, there are plenty of hotels for those that wish to make a weekend out of it. One of the best is the Dai-ichi Inn Shonan (http://www.daiichihotels.com/hotel/shonan), located close to the south exit of Tsujido station (Tokaido line). There are also numerous love hotels that offer good rates for those who want to crash for a few hours. For food, across the street from the aquarium is Muan Thai (0466-23-8555), where chefs serve up all manner of authentic Southeast Asian dishes. For more information, see www.ifujisawa.com, www.airloop.biz (surf school), www.s-n-p.jp/skatepark (skate park) or www.enosui.com (Enoshima Aquarium).