Hit the beach!!
I’m from Colorado. It’s a landlocked state. It has over fifty mountain peaks higher than Mt. Fuji with tons of hiking trails and ski resorts. I’ve never considered myself a water person, consequently, and I don’t really like sand. In the evening of our move to Kamakura, we took the dogs for a walk along the beach. The waves were gently rolling into shore. The sun was setting over Mt. Fuji. The dogs, who had never seen the ocean before, were having the time of their lives. I was immediately captivated.
The restaurants along the beach enjoy the luxury of serving Kamakura’s famous vegetables as well as fresh caught fish from Sagami Bay. Many families from Tokyo come to Kamakura just to spend time at the ocean. It’s easy to do. I’ve seen beachcombers, treasure hunters, sand castle makers, surfers, swimmers, paddle boarders, sailors, canoeists, and even paragliders soaring high overhead. It’s a giant playground.
The beach is divided into two sections by the Namerigawa River. Each side has its own personality. The beach east of the river is called Zaimokuza. If you want mellow, head east. Zaimokuza is relaxed and quiet. It’s a great place to take a paddle board or surfing lesson. Here you will see where the locals go to walk their dogs, fish, surf, and watch the rising sun over Japan or spectacular sunsets over Mt Fuji to the west. You will see many of them up as early as the morning sun at 4:30! Zaimokuza goes to bed early and gets up early.
If walking along barefoot in the sand looking for seashells and watching the endless waves isn’t calming enough for you, slip under the last pedestrian tunnel at the eastern end of the beach, cross the street, and enter the gate of Komyoji Temple. It’s worth the visit. See my Komyoji blog for more details. For food, follow the main road in front of Komyoji west. Right around the first corner you will find Bunny’s Bento. They have a great boxed lunch selection and behind the shop is a quick entry back to the beach. If you’re in the mood for noodles, continue past Bunny’s around the next corner and there is a soba shop Dote on your right. Mill Coffee across the street next to the cute vegetable stand also serves sandwiches and drinks. Right along the beach itself are Good Morning Zaimokuza and the Zaimokuza Terrace, both of which serve meals.
The beach to the west is called Yuigahama. This beach has a different feel. Yuigahama is more frequented by tourists and is much more lively. Visitors will often stop here as respite from temple hopping. It has an underground parking lot, Lawson’s convenience stores at either end, and a string of popular restaurants and bars in between. If you want something really special, continue along the curve in the beach to a Japanese restaurant called Minamoto at the Park Hotel. The head chef is the husband of Miho's high school friend and he makes delicious meals that are almost too pretty to eat.
There are several events we have participated in that brought large crowds to the beach:
Gosho Jinja Matsuri. This is Zaimokuza’s biggest festival. Each June, the priests at Gosho Jinja take out their most precious artifacts, called mikoshi, or portable shrines. These miniature shrines serve as the vehicle in which a Shinto deity travels. The mikoshi are beautifully decorated and can weigh thousands of pounds. They are hoisted on the shoulders of brave volunteers dressed in tunics and festival jackets who sing songs for the deity and carry the shrines down to the ocean. At night, the neighborhood comes out for a carnival-like atmosphere in the streets.
Summer Break. During July and August, both beaches become host to throngs of young people on summer break. Temporary bars and cafes are constructed on the sand. There are lifeguards on duty, music, fireworks, and water sports of all kind. You can buy or rent anything you need to spend a day at the beach, even a shower to rinse off at the end of the day. In September, the vendors pack up and go home and the beaches return to normal. Be aware that no visible tattoos are allowed on the beaches. Japan is very strict about showing tattoos in public, due to its yakuza past.
Hanabi. Each summer the city pulls out its finest gunpowder and puts on quite a show. You’ll see people dressed in traditional yukata (summer kimonos) and picnicking on the beach before the sun sets and the hanabi (fireworks) begin. The nighttime show is launched from a boat out on the bay and the displays are visible from just about anywhere in Kamakura.
Yabusame. This is the ancient tradition of samurai horseback archery that occurs usually at Shinto shrines as a ritual. In Kamakura, they are performed at Tsurugaoka Hachimangu several times a year. We were fortunate to have recently witnessed this special event held at the Zaimokuza side of the beach. A Shinto blessing was given and highly skilled riders galloped along the beach to shoot their arrows at a small target. It was quite colorful.
Bioluminescence. We were not able to see it this year, but approximately each May, a magical phenomenon occurs here at night. Noctiluca scintillans, also known as Sea Sparkle, gather offshore due to high concentrations of plankton. These “blooms” produce a ghostly blue glow in the bay as the ocean waves disturb them.