Japan might not be the first country that springs to mind when you think of a beach vacation, but Japanese travelers know that the coastline of this fascinating archipelago is studded with gorgeous beaches, particularly on the dreamy southern islands.
International surfers speak highly of Japan’s lively surf scene, which tends to be very inclusive, giving coastal towns a uniquely Japanese but universally chilled-out surf vibe. Then there are the beach resorts of Kamakura – perfect for beach days out from Tokyo – and the pure-bliss sands of Okinawa and the southern islands.
Whether your tastes run to beach resorts within commuting distance from Tokyo or remote island idylls, here’s our pick of the best beaches in Japan.
1. Sunayama Beach, Miyako-jima
Best for pure beach beauty
The island of Miyako-jima is the largest and most populous of the Miyako Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, and its shoreline is dotted with incredible beaches. Sunayama, near the island’s hub city of Hirara, is perhaps the pick of the bunch – an archetypally tropical white-sand beach with a striking rock arch, which lies at the bottom of a large sand dune (hence the name, meaning 'Sand Mountain Beach'). With this being Japan, things are well-organized for beach days, with mask and snorkel rentals, showers and toilets. Regular flights connect Mikayo-Jima with Osaka, Tokyo and other hubs.
Planning tip: Most accommodation is located in the Hirara district of Miyakojima city, but you'll also find places to stay closer to the beaches. There are free camping grounds at many beach parks, including Yonaha-Maehama and Aragusuku-kaigan.
2. Jōdogahama, Miyako City
Best for rock formations and natural beauty
A short distance from Miyako City in Iwate Prefecture in the north of Japan, photogenic Jōdogahama – whose name translates to 'pure land beach' – sits on a sheltered inlet surrounded by jagged white-stone outcrops backed by deep-green pines. It's part of Sanriku Fukkō National Park, famed for its coastal rock formations. Peaceful walking tracks wind their way around the bay, while the beach itself has crystal-clear water perfect for tranquil bathing. Domestic tourists flock to the area in summer, when paddle boats are available for hire, and boat trips run out to the Blue Cave, a scenic sea cave in the bay.
3. Nishibama Beach, Aka-jima
Best for perfect sand and clear waters
Lovely beaches fringe every side of tiny Aka-jima in the Kerama Islands, just west of Okinawa, but for sheer postcard-perfect beauty, it's hard to beat the 1km (0.6 mile) stretch of white, crushed-coral sand on the northeast coast known as Nishibama Beach. You can rent snorkeling gear here to check out the reef life, or content yourself with swimming in calm, clear waters.
Local tip: It can get crowded here in summer. If you want privacy, seek out the quieter beaches on the other sides of the island. Fast ferries run to Aka-jima from Naha on Okinawa.
4. Shirahama, Shimoda
Best for surfing
The beaches around the attractive little port city of Shimoda, southwest of Toyko on the Izu Peninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture, serve up some of Japan's best surf breaks, and tokkyū trains run here regularly from the Japanese capital. Not to be confused with the resort of Shirahama on the Kii Peninsula, Shirahama is the most popular section of sand. Its small but constant beach break gets packed in summer, and it's good for snorkeling on calmer days. At the north end of the beach, Irie Coffee & Sea rents out boards and wetsuits and offers lessons. There's another decent break north over the headland, in front of the Shimoda Prince Hotel.
5. Hitotsuku Beach, Hirado
Best for off-the-beaten-track sand
North of Nagasaki, the sweet, off-the-beaten-path island of Hirado has picturesque old streets, great seafood, a grand castle and intriguing museums. It also has some wonderfully rugged sections of coastline. Travelers who venture this far west are spoiled for choice when it comes to pristine beaches. Hitotsuku on the west coast is perhaps the pick of the lot, with clear, turquoise waters and a sliver of silver sand, with toilets and showers making for an easy beach day.
Planning tip: You can get to Hirado from Nagasaki by bus, with a change in Sasebo.
6. Sunset Beach, Ishigaki-jima
Best for East China Sea sunsets
Another of Okinawa Prefecture’s star beaches, Sunset Beach is at the northwest end of Ishigaki-jima in the Yaeyama Islands. Big selling points include appealing golden sand, clear turquoise water, and a netted swimming area to protect bathers from box jellyfish, which gather in the waters off Okinawa from May to October. As the name implies, this is also one of the best spots to watch the sun set into the East China Sea. Flights run to Ishigaki City on Ishigaki-jima from Tokyo, Osaka and Naha.
7. Ōkinohama, Shikoku
Best for year-round swimming
About 25km (15.5 miles) south of Shimanto City (Nakamura) on the island of Shikoku, you'll find Ōkinohama, one of southern Japan's most magnificent sandy beaches. The only souls to frequent this unspoiled 2km (1.2 mile) stretch of sand are the area's surfers, some egg-laying turtles (from May to August), and the odd, grinning clam diver. With the sand facing east, you can watch the sun and moon rise from your beach towel, and warm currents ensure that swimming is possible year-round. Buses from Nakamura Station to Ashizuri-misaki pass Ōkinohama.
8. Kominato-kaigan, Chichi-jima
About 1000km (620 miles) from the Japanese mainland, the tiny island of Chichi-jima in the Ogasawara Archipelago offers a quintessentially tropical scene. Good swimming beaches line the west side of the island, getting more lovely and languorous the further south you go. The neighboring coves of Kopepe and Kominato-kaigan are particularly attractive; from Kominato-kaigan, you can walk along a trail over the hill and along the coast to find more beguiling white sand at John Beach (though come prepared for a two-hour hike). The Ogasawara Hauin ferry company runs boats to Chichi-jima from Tokyo, taking 24 hours each way.
Local tip: The Ogasawara Islands are a Unesco World Natural Heritage site for their flora and fauna, including endangered bird species.
9. Shiroyama Beach, Takahama
Best for families (and setting)
With clear, shallow waters, Shiroyama Beach in Takahama in less-traveled Fukui Prefecture is a hit with Japanese families. On the coast north of Kyoto, the beach backs onto a wide, green park that was originally the site of vanished Takahama Castle. Adding to the drama of the setting, a verdant rock arch known as Meikyōdō bookends the northeast end of the park and a handful of Shinto shrines dot the rocky headland nearby. With views towards Mt Aoba, it's a popular spot for a sunset stroll.
Planning tip: As an added bonus, the beach is just over two hours from Kyoto by train.
1o. Yuigahama Beach, Kamakura
Best for a beach break from Tokyo
Kamakura’s beaches don’t compare to the perfect sands lining the islands of Okinawa Prefecture, but with Tokyo just an hour away by train, they're a great choice for anyone wanting a bit of sand and sea while staying in Japan's energetic capital. This seaside city's main beachfront, Yuigahama, has a laid-back, earthy vibe, which is only complemented by its organic restaurants, summer beach shacks and surfers. Sunrise meditation sessions and hillside hikes add to the long list of reasons to visit, but the beach tends to get packed on weekends and holidays, so plan accordingly.
Planning tip: Not far from the beach is the delightful Kamejikan Guesthouse with a small cafe and bar and information on beach yoga sessions.
Destination expert Wendy Yanagihara reviewed and updated this text for accuracy and relevance. Some content has been adapted from Lonely Planet's Japan guidebook.