Sydney Morning Herald
Monday September 15, 2008
there's a festival atmosphere in the air when the Japanese go to the seaside, writes Dominic Knight.Nobody thinks to visit Tokyo for its beaches. And it's true that compared with the white-sand gems of, say, Thailand, they're not much to write home about. But there's no better way to escape the stifling heat of the Japanese summer than to head to the seaside for a refreshing dip in the ocean. And the capital boasts several pleasant, relaxing beaches that are only a short train ride from the centre of town. If you're in Tokyo during July or August, they're well worth a visit.For a change of pace from the intensity of Tokyo, it's best to head to chilled-out Enoshima, which is just over an hour from Shinjuku on the Odakyu line. And judging by the out-there hairdos and garments on display, it seems many of the trendies from Shibuya and Harajuku have the same idea. It's a regular fashion parade, with the lengthy strip of sand jam-packed with locals on weekends during the season.Only a short walk from Katase-Enoshima station, the main Enoshima Beach is a long strip of dark volcanic sand that boasts idyllic views of picturesque Enoshima Island, itself a popular destination for a stroll. On a clear day, Mount Fuji can be seen across the water, making the beach one of the most photogenic spots in Japan. The locals take out their surfboards and body boards but the waves are small by Australian standards, making the other local favourite, the inflatable ring, the best option. The water is warm and relatively unsalty, making bathing very pleasant. Temporary wooden shacks spring up along the beachfront every summer, serving alcohol accompanied by a wide array of foods, with fried noodles (yakisoba) a particular favourite. You can recline on cushions or tatami mats while massive speakers pump out everything from reggae beats to the latest J-pop hits. Many of the shacks have their own umbrellas and recliners that allow you to enjoy your drinks on the sand. Do what the locals do and buy cheaper drinks from nearby convenience stores. The drinking culture creates a distinctive festival atmosphere where it seems everyone is at some party. A short ride away along the miniature Enoden line is Kamakura, which served as Japan's capital during the 1200s. Now, it's a sleepy seaside town with a dazzling array of shrines that make it something of a miniature Kyoto. It's best known for the Kotoku-in shrine with its giant Buddha statue, the Daibutsu, which is a famous symbol of Japan. The Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shinto shrine is also well worth a visit and the picturesque Zeniarai Benten shrine, which is entirely enclosed by mountains, has a spring that you can supposedly wash money in to multiply it. Then, after all the cultural refinement of historic Kamakura becomes too much, you can retreat to the nearby Yuigahama Beach to relax over yet another tin of ice-cold chuhai. How to get thereEnoshima Beach Odakyu Line from Shinjuku to Katase-Enoshima station, Y610 (about $6), about 70 minutes. Depending on the train, you may need to change at Fujisawa.Kamakura JR Shonan-Shinjuku Line from Shibuya or Shinjuku, Y890, about 55 minutes.Depending on the time of day you intend to travel, it's best to visit www.jorudan.co.jp/english/ to find the fastest route.The two beaches are linked by the Enoden line. The Odakyu Shinjuku stations sell all-day passes for Y1430 that allow unlimited travel to and from Tokyo and between both beaches.The beaches in Kanagawa Prefecture are generally only open in July and August, since poor weather and box jellyfish render them unsuitable at other times. There are also several beaches in Chiba, to the north of Tokyo.