When you think of Japan, do you think about the beach? You should. Japan is nothing but a collection islands. Get outside of the big cities and Japan's long stretches of incredible coastline are yours for the finding and enjoying.
To date, my favorite beach is Izu Tatadohama in Shimoda City at the bottom of the Izu Peninsula. I'd heard about the nearby Izu Shirahama Beach from friends and I'd seen pictures of it on the internet but I wanted to see for myself if the pictures really were true. I rented a surfboard and scheduled a lesson with the first surf shop that answered the phone, but I neglected to check the store's location until I arrived in Shimoda. Realizing my mistake, I stored my luggage at my ryokan and made the thirty-minute walk from Izukyu Shimoda Station to the store's location. It was after 9 at night and the store was long closed but I had to see if my mistake could be rectified. At the storefront the sound of breaking waves reduced my concern and a quick check of the beach itself eliminated it completely. The moon-mirroring sand was fine and soft under my feet. The water was warm and refreshing. The moon's light was only enough to illuminate the waves' white water when they broke so I couldn't tell how large they were or what they looked like, but I did know that surfing wouldn't be a problem the next day.
When I laid my eyes on Tatadohama under the sunlight, I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing. I've always dreamed of lying in a hammock between two palm trees on a white sand beach with blue water. On that particular day Tatadohama lacked only the hammock. But I had no use for a hammock, I had a surfboard. The water I rode that surf board in was so clear and blue I could see to the bottom in places over 5 meters deep. It was also warm enough that I surfed all day with nothing but surf jams. The waves too were the perfect size and shape for a learning surfer like me to enjoy himself (although the really experienced guys were having a ball as well). The pine and cedar forests and the mountains and cliffs that hem the beach in on both sides, and the view of the mountainous and indented coastline stretching away to the southwest made paddling out and waiting for the next wave set a great experience. I cannot wait until I next visit Izu Tatadohama. I'll remember to bring a hammock. I suppose all I'll need then is a piña colada and half a coconut shell to drink it out of.
Shimoda City can be reached from Tokyo in 2.5 hours via a Kodama Shinkansen to Atami, and a ride on the Limited Express Odoriko from there, ¥6110 each way unreserved. The local train will take 3 hours and 20 minutes but costs only ¥3780 each way. If you are using a JR Rail Pass or a Seishun 18 Ticket be aware that the final stretch of the Izukyu Shimoda Line from Ito to Shimoda is operated by a private company (Izukyu Shimoda) and you will be responsible for paying ¥1575 each way for that section of your trip. The bus from Izukyu-Shimoda Station to Izu Tatadohama Beach is ~¥210, a surf board rental from one of the many local shops is about ¥3500/day. Want to stay for the night or better yet, the whole weekend? The Ohizu Ryokan in downtown Shimoda offers private rooms with onsen for ¥3500/night (no meals), or the Tabi-Tabi Guest House which has rooms from ¥4500/person/night. The Tabi-Tabi is the more convenient of the two, it's closer to Tatadohama, has a full kitchen for guests to cook in and English speaking owners (one of them a native speaker) and staff. Do you associate Japan with the beach now? Happy travels!