Japanese Beach Houses
Like many island nations, Japan has its share of beautiful beaches. But if visiting over the summer months you’ll find most of them have a unique cultural tradition definitely worth checking out.
More Than Just Sand & Surf
If your interest in beaches is limited to the whitest sand and the bluest water, then well-known spots like Okinawa, and lesser known ones like Amami Oshima and the Izu Islands, deliver that in spades. But for a slightly different Japanese summer experience, we recommend checking out one or more of the interesting structures that briefly appear on the beaches here each year.
Umi no Ie
For a period of between 8 and 10 weeks through July and August, it is the official Japanese beach season. No matter what the weather is doing, the Japanese populace keep to these dates pretty rigidly, with crowds on the beaches swelling on opening day and declining the day after closing. This is partly due to lifeguard patrols only operating officially during that period, but is also because the umi no ie, literally ‘beach house’ are only open during this time. Umi no ie are temporary structures on the beach that offer a variety of food and drink, beach rentals such as umbrellas and lounge chairs, and a chance to get out of the hot summer sun to recharge.
Umi no Ie
Many umi no ie offer showers and changing rooms, and if you’re feeling adventurous, they may also have a selection of marine sports equipment including masks and snorkels, body boards and surfboards, occasionally windsurfers, and more increasingly stand-up paddle boards. Prices and availability of equipment will vary between beach houses but generally they give the option of renting items at an hourly rate, a half day rate or for a full day.
Sustenance and Hydration
After all that swimming and paddling, you’re going to need some nourishment to replenish your energy. The traditional umi no ie will offer a range of Japanese fare, most commonly yakisoba, ramen, fried chicken and edamame. More modern versions of the beach house offer a mix of Asian dishes including curries and noodles dishes, along with Western fare such as hot dogs, tacos, and burgers. If you are looking for something sweeter, the Japanese summer standard, kakigori, shaved ice with flavored syrups poured over the top, is a perfect way to cool off.
In addition to the food, the umi no ie function as bars, with drink menus varying as well depending upon the one you are visiting. Cold beer is available in bottles and on tap in most beach houses, and the fancier the venue, the fancier the range of mixed drinks and cocktails and you’ll also find on offer.
Our Favorite Houses
Since it’s only an hour by train from Tokyo, followed by a 15 minute bus ride from Zushi Station, our favorite cluster of umi no ie can be found on Isshiki Beach in Hayama. The beach houses there range from the very traditional, to the very modern all with a very laid-back vibe. Maybe the best idea is to stop in at a couple of them to find your perfect match, all the while enjoying the people watching. But if you want to pin us down, we would recommend
Blue Moon Cafe and
Umigoya. Our final tip, if time allows, is to stay for the sunset, which can be quite spectacular. More often than not a silhouette of Mt Fuji will provide the perfect backdrop to close out a day at the beach.