Surfing near Tokyo in Shonan
Japan has waves to ride and the beachy culture that comes with it
Enjoy surfing near Tokyo and escape the crowds. Go by camper!
What and where is Shonan?
Just an hour by train to the west from downtown Tokyo, is a magic place called Shonan. It is not a city but the name of a collection of beaches and beautiful spots along the coast. It includes, from east to west, Kamakura, Fujisawa and Chigasaki. Some of its highlights are even in the guidebooks, for example the temple city of Kamakura which is also called ‘little Kyoto.’ And Enoshima, basically ‘a huge 50 meter high rock of an Island with beautiful temples on top and many restaurants at its base.’
But the best part of Shonan is the coastline, long sandy beaches with rolling waves under the ever watchful eye of mount Fuji further ahead. Ask a random Japanese about surfing near Tokyo, big chance they will look at you dreamily and say; ‘Shonan!’
Shonan is lifestyle
Many Japanese working in Tokyo try to escape the ever ongoing cycle of work by living in the Shonan area. Fujisawa city was even voted ‘the most popular place to live in Japan’ in 2014, mostly because of its beach, parks and vibe combined with the proximity to the capital. In the early morning, many locals head out to surf, with a board strapped to their bicycle in a way I first saw on the Indonesian island of Bali.
The lifestyle includes a lot of ‘Aloha’ with Hawaii as their big example, an easy attitude towards rules and traditions, and, barbecues! Enjoying a barbecue on the beach with friends is the number 1 activity for Shonan-people from May to October. And barbecuing on the beach is not even allowed! But I already mentioned that easier attitude towards rules..
Surfing near Tokyo
So, how is the surf? First of all, waves are generally small, 1 to 4 feet mostly, on slow to good days. And the close out badly, and close to the beach. Riding foam is part of the fun. Sometimes, in typhoon season after the summer, the winds help to whip things up a lot higher. But mostly, this area is great for longboards and play. That said, locals like their short boards too, but to ride them here takes some skill and rides are short anyway. A friend of mine has a popular Facebook page called ‘Salt Water Players‘ and I think that is about the best definition of Shonan surfing. ‘Sea, fun and sharing it with friends.’ Because that is another thing to note. It gets very busy in Japanese swimming season, with Copacabana-like crowds and atmosphere, in July and August.
Sandy, shallow and safe
The ocean here is warm year around, the lowest temperature is about 17 degrees celsius on snowy days, up to 25 in August. So locals are found watching the first sunrise of a new year from their boards and they surf all the time. There is never too much current except near river mouths and the beach is clean. Sand is of a coarse grey-black and a little rough quality, result of volcanic sediments. The water is quite shallow for the first 5-20 meters or so, depending on the tide. Making surfing easier for beginners. For the real-surfer-facts of the area, check surfinginjapan.com
Camp and catch the early waves
While sharing waves is all good, a bit of personal space to play is better. A great way to get some local vibe is to stay the night here, and catch the early waves with the locals. Hotels can be found especially in train station areas, a little far from the water, so why not make a camper car your base? Also a great way to combine Shonan with other parts of Japan, like nearby Hakone or the southern Alps.
Or if you live in the capital, make it a long weekend around Tokyo, from a very different perspective. Just like anywhere in Japan, you can park and sleep in a vehicle and there are (free) facilities you can use.
Beaches of Kugenuma and Tsujido
While Kamakura is famous, it does not have the best spots to enjoy the beach and ride waves. Mostly because the coastal strip is very narrow. It does make for great views. Better are Kugenuma and Tsujido. See the Ride Summary (at the end of the article, where you get all useful details of Go Camper Japan trips).
Kugenuma is probably the most famous spot for Japanese surfers, a wide bay just west of Enoshima island. Lively with beach cafes in summer and surf shops abound to rent you all sizes of boards, including the popular SUPs (Stand Up Paddle boards). Toilets and showers are found at several parking areas, just of the beach.
To take note: in Japanese swimming season, roughly mid-July to September, the beach in Kugenuma is patrolled from 8am to 5pm. Bodyboards are allowed but for surfing is only the western edge left, at the river mouth. As soon as the music starts, indicating that it is 5pm, a rush of surfers hits the waves 😉
Tsujido is more quiet and not as cosmopolitan but gets decent waves too. Parking your car for the night feels better here, next to a large park with a swimming pool for example. There are even hot showers here! In both locations you do have to pay to park, no escape there, for the full 24 hours even, if you want to enjoy a near-beach-spot. Otherwise you could drive inland and find another place to save your yen. Also Tsujido has many rental shops, local restaurants and even a good 24/7 supermarket only a stone’s throw from the sea, right where you need it.
Add some fishing flavour
A great local custom is working together and help the fishermen pull in the nets, which now happens mostly in weekends. People gather to pull a long, long fishing net onto the beach and the catch is bbq’ed together. You normally have to book this happening, and for residents it is popular to throw a beach party with all your neighbours once a year. Fish are usually small such as sardines and mackerel but exotic species can get caught in the net too. I saw small sharks and rays for example. These get thrown back, but usually only after a dozen of kids have touched them and all parents have taken a selfie with it..
Go to Shonan, to enjoy beach life and surfing near Tokyo. As a dedicated trip or on your way to other places in Japan
Create your unique trip! Go Camper Japan!
Other useful information:
Great surfing details on Kugenuma, including Webcams: surfinginjapan.com
Find out how easy it is to travel Japan by rental campervan: How to.. on the road
Buy drinking water, or fill up at the tap of convenience stores? Safe drinking water in Japan
Ride Summary: your details about this trip