The exceedingly diverse topography of the Japanese archipelago, made up of more than 6,000 islands, big and small, means a quest to find the most beautiful beaches in Japan is no small feat. This ancient land is simply brimming over with tamed and wild stretches of mesmerizing coastlines to choose from.
If you happen to be a lover of sandy shores and stunning coastal walks, Japan serves up a cornucopia of varied, fascinating and outstanding beaches for you to explore, from the subtropical cobalt-blue waters surrounding Okinawa, down south to the more frigid seas off of the northern island of Hokkaido.
Whatever your favorite style of seashore, here’s a curated selection of 12 of the best beaches in Japan.
Kabira Bay, Ishigaki Island, Okinawa
If you fancy a serene walk along a pleasing expanse of white sand with relatively few holidaymakers splashing about the sea, look no further than Kabira Bay on Ishigaki Island, one of the most beautiful places in Japan.
While swimming isn’t allowed on Kabira Beach proper, due to the bay’s pearl cultivation activity, the serenity you’ll find here is one of the main reasons why these turquoise waters, lapping up against the sands of Kabira Bay, have created one of the best beaches in Japan.
If you’d like a little more adventure, you can opt for a glass-bottom boat tour here as well, or perhaps a coral snorkeling trip out to the nearby Taketomi and Hamajima islands—with the latter (which is really just a sandbar) vanishing beneath the sea come high tide.
Read: What Is Japan Known For?
Tanesashi Coast, Aomori
Toward the northern tip of Japan’s main island, Honshu, you’ll come across the city of Aomori, and the neighboring Tanesashi Coast, which is part of Sanriku Fukko National Park.
And while you’ll find a few small beaches sprinkled about here, many featuring piles of boulders, what makes this slice of Japanese coast stand out are the eye-catching wild lawns that grow up to the water’s edge.
Black-tailed gulls have selected this part of the Tanesashi Coast as their breeding ground, which means there’s a good chance you’ll see these monogamous birds taking to the sky above Kabushima Island and Shrine.
When you do walk along Tanesashi’s sandy beach areas, you can listen to the nakisuna or “singing sands” beneath your feet, which produce vibrating sounds to accompany you as you meander along this magnificent sliver of Japanese shoreline.
Shirahama Ohama Beach, Shizuoka
Shirahama Ohama Beach, in Shizuoka Prefecture, is close to the capital of Tokyo, an almost obligatory destination when visiting Japan. The white-sand Shirahama Beach, framed by verdant hillsides on either end, is an enormously popular spot for locals and visitors alike.
The fact that Shirahama can quickly be reached by bullet train from Tokyo does mean that during the hot summer months, throngs of sunbathers, swimmers, and surfers tend to fill up the shore, jockeying for position for their place in the sun. But the journey there and the experience of the bullet train is an adventure in itself.
If you prefer slightly less population density, head to Shirahama Chuo Beach, just north of Shirahama Ohama Beach, past the red Izu Shirahama Shinto Shrine.
Read: Three Days in Tokyo
Azama Sun-Sun Beach, Okinawa
You just know that Azama Sun-Sun Beach, near the southern tip of Okinawa on the Chinen Peninsula, has to qualify as one of the most beautiful beaches in Japan—given that the word “sun” is used twice in the name.
Azama Sun-Sun Beach’s main claim to fame, apart from its lovely warm sand and turquoise water, is that it offers bathers a safe, artificially-created lagoon, perfect for you or your entire family to swim in and enjoy.
Glass-bottom boat rides, the nearby ferry to the scenic Kudaka Island—which is home to the spiritual god Amamikiyo, credited with creating the Ryukyu Islands—plus plenty of seaside amenities make this Okinawan beach an ideal spot where you can frolic around in the ocean.
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Mizunashi Kaihin Hot Spring, Hakodate
At first glance, the rocky shores surrounding Mizunashi Kaihin Hot Spring, located on Japan’s northernmost major island, Hokkaido, in the suburbs of Hakodate, don’t seem that inviting at all—at least to the average beachgoer.
The beach faces the often chilly Northern Pacific and is covered with smooth, good-sized stones. But to the locals, this small sweep of unassuming coastline is a magical spot.
Mizunashi Kaihin Hot Spring is butted up against the ocean, with its thermal waters only appearing at low tide. This natural onsen (hot spring) vanishes when the tide swooshes in, which affects the temperature of the water throughout the day.
The smart thing to do is to plan your visit here for low tide, which will let you delight in the stark temperature contrasts. You can soak in the toasty hot spring while gazing out over the cool Pacific.
Sunset Beach, Ishigaki
When exploring the vast Japanese archipelago, there’s a decent chance you’ll swing by Ishigaki Island, which is something of a nucleus for the remote southern Yaeyama Islands.
The remote island of Ishigaki, off the coast of Taiwan, is about as far away from the industrial heart of Japan as you can get while still being in Japan.
The fairly secluded subtropical Sunset Beach, true to its name, offers aficionados of the sea immaculate white sands and stunning vistas across the East China Sea. You’ll rarely find big crowds here.
Sunset Beach is situated along a northern stretch of Ishigaki, and offers visitors submerged rocks and small coral reefs for snorkeling and soft sand for sunbathing.
Wakeboarding is an option here as well, which is perfect if you’re the kind of person who needs a little more activity besides basking in the glorious sun.
Ibusuki, Kyushu Island
Ibusuki, on Kyushu Island, with its warm black sand, numbers among the most beautiful beaches in Japan thanks to its stunning views, including the conical Kaimondake volcano in the distance, along with the surrounding green countryside and hills. Another big draw here is the unique tradition of suna-mushi, or sand bathing.
The mechanics of a detoxifying sand bath at Ibusuki are simple: You arrive at the beach, change into a yukata, or light kimono, then with the help of a beachside spa attendant, lie down (with a towel wrapped around your head for comfort, and to protect your face and hair) and are partially buried into the beach.
Your entire body, save for your head, will then be sheathed inside a warm and soothing mound or “blanket” of black sand.
Ibusuki sand baths, which typically last 20 minutes or less, are meant to rejuvenate the body and spirit, letting you become one with the beach and sand, helping you relax by dissolving your tension and stress away.
Lake Biwa, Omi Maiko Beach, Kyoto
If you’re the sort of traveler who prefers freshwater, Lake Biwa and Omi Maiko Beach, near Kyoto, might be the Japanese lakeside beach experience you’re searching for.
Lake Biwa is, in fact, the largest freshwater lake in Japan. Omi Maiko Beach, on the lake’s western shore, is only a half an hour or so from Kyoto.
Biwa offers visitors to Kyoto, and even bustling Osaka, a refreshing reprieve from the heat of the cities in summer.
Omi Maiko Beach features pebble and white sand beaches, clear water for swimming, plus beachside barbecue pits for grilling your lunch. The fir and pine trees lining the shores, along with expansive vistas across the lake, add to the inviting, refreshing atmosphere here.
Omi Maiko can get fairly busy, but if you scoot down the beach far enough, you should find some peace and quiet.
Read: Two Days in Kyoto
Yoron Island, Yurigahama Beach, Kagoshima
Tiny Yoron Island, in Kagoshima Prefecture, is a small oasis in Japan’s southern Amami Islands. Yoron offers coral reefs inhabited by dozens of species of brilliantly colored fish along with crystal clear water, sandbars and white-sand beaches on which to unwind.
The most famous of Yoron’s beaches, and one of the best beaches in Japan, is Yurigahama Beach, which is actually a sandbar that vanishes at high tide. You’ll need to time your visit for when the tide is out.
The shallow, balmy waters surrounding “phantasmal” Yurigahama, when it does emerge from the sea, make this tiny desert island perfect for photos or a scenic morning or afternoon swim.
If you don’t want to wait for Yurigahama to appear, you can always head over to the much bigger white-sand Okaneku Coast, with its romantic views across the ocean.
Miho-no-Matsubara, Mt. Fuji
The pebbly beach of Miho-no-Matsubara, on the Miho Peninsula near Shizuoka City, is famed for its iconic, artist-inspiring views of Mt. Fuji (often seen in Japanese ukiyo-e paintings), its dense pine forest, as well as a celestial legend involving a fisherman and a goddess.
Head to Miho-no-Matsubara for stirring vistas of one of the most beautiful mountains in the world, Mt. Fuji. While there, enjoy strolls along the beach and among rows of pine trees, some more than 200 years old, on the Kami no Michi or “Way of Kami” path. The trail leads to the lovely Shinto Miho Shrine, slightly inland and west of the beach.
Miho-no-Matsubara is also where Japan’s fabled Hagoromo legend is set. According to the story, a celestial maiden left her otherworldly hagoromo (kimono) hanging from a tree branch here and went for a swim.
A local fisherman found the kimono and thought it of great value, but ultimately handed it back to the deity after she agreed to offer him a heavenly dance.
Katsurahama Beach, Kochi
On Shikoku Island, which is counted among Japan’s five main islands, you’ll find the city of Kochi—not to be confused with a city of the same name (Kochi or Cochin) in Kerala, India—and Katsurahama Beach, which numbers among the best beaches in Japan.
The Pacific Ocean’s currents at Katsurahama are too rough to allow swimming, but the beach, backed by pine groves, still offers plenty of other distractions. A sizable statue of the celebrated samurai Sakamoto Ryoma, who hailed from Kochi, stands near the sand and gravel shoreline.
Katsurahama Beach, which lies just south of Kochi’s Urado Bay, also holds a special place in the hearts of romantic Japanese. Katsurahama is renowned as an enchanting spot for gazing up at the moon at night, thanks to the Yosakoi-bushi folk song, which cites Katsurahama as an exceptional place for viewing our planet’s natural satellite.
The entire area is known as Katsurahama Park, where you will stumble across the smallish Katsurahama Aquarium as well, plus, somewhat incongruously, the Tosa Dog (a breed of Japanese fighting dog) Museum.
Takahama Beach, Nagasaki
Takahama Beach, half an hour’s drive from Nagasaki on the Goto Islands, is a somewhat hidden sanctuary of sandy perfection. The water here is amazingly clear and swimmable, which is one of the reasons why this spot is one of the most beautiful beaches in Japan.
The long beach, with its stark white sand, is protected by a broad sandbank. Tumbling into the serene waves here, next to the East China Sea, is very pleasurable indeed.
The beach is surrounded by alluring green hills, which you admire further if you opt for the short hike up to the Gyoran Kannon Observation Deck.
From the observation deck, you’ll be able to appreciate the true splendor of Takahama Beach. You can also take in views of Sagano Island across the water to the west. Over the horizon is South Korea’s Jeju Island – but not so close you can swim or paddle there, of course.
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