The Stunning Beaches of Shimane Prefecture
Although the tourism agencies do a fantastic job of marketing Okinawa as Japan’s top beach destination, it’s not always necessary to get off the mainland to find incredible beaches. In Shimane Prefecture, found in the western part of Honshu, you can find some truly spectacular beaches on and off the mainland, without the crowds.
On the Mainland: the Sea of Japan Coast
Sasago Beach is a picturesque enclave of white sand and aquamarine water. The beach is usually empty except during Japan’s official beach season from July to August. Here, you can go swimming and snorkeling, as the water is crystal clear, or you can fish off rocky crops at either end of the bay.
Further along the coastline from Sasago Beach is a small bay called Sugeura Beach. You won’t find many crowds here but the odd fishing boat or two.
Kitaura Beach is a wide bay that curves gently on either side. The water is green and clear, perfect for swimming, snorkeling, diving and sea kayaking. Locals often look for seaweed and crustaceans in the rock pools on the right side of the bay.
Further along the coastline is Konami Beach. The beach is wide and sandy and the bay is protected by concrete tetrapods.
Like Konami Beach, Nonami is well protected and offers vast spaces for barbecuing, swimming and splashing around.
Unlike the previous three beaches which are close to Matsue, Kirara Beach can be found on the other end of Shimane Prefecture, in Taki, Izumo. Kirara is a calm beach that is perfect for families and young children.
Off the Mainland: the Oki Islands
The Oki Islands consist of four inhabited islands (Dogo, Nishinoshima, Nakanoshima and Chiburijima) and over a hundred uninhabited ones. These stunning islands recently became a Unesco Global Geopark because of their geological uniqueness. They also possess several gorgeous beaches.
The largest of the Oki Islands does not disappoint when it comes to beaches. Also known as Okinoshima, it offers incredible swimming, snorkeling, diving and sea kayaking. Popular beaches include Shiohama Beach, Dogo’s largest sandy beach, Fukuura Beach, Kasuganohama Beach, and Nakamura Beach, which is surrounded by pine trees.
On Nakanoshima, also known as Ama, Rainbow Beach is a sandy beach within walking distance of Hishiura Port. Further away from the port is the Akiya Coast, where you will find a red, volcanic outcrop with a heart-shaped hole naturally hewn in the rock. You can swim, fish and camp on Akiya Beach. Furoya Beach is another popular location frequented by the locals.
Although famous for its breathtaking Kuniga coastline, Nishinoshima also has great beaches. Sotohama is the island’s only sandy beach, with a clear, wide bay for swimming and snorkeling.
Mimiura is another popular beach destination on the island. In spite of its pebble-strewn beach, it’s the perfect place to camp, snorkel and kayak. To get to Mimiura, you have to drive inland through some dense pine forest and soon you’ll see the ocean peeking through the top of the trees. Although not an official swimming beach, Kuniga Beach is great for snorkeling.
Considered the smallest of the four main Oki islands, Chiburijima or Chibu, is noted for Watatsu Beach and Nagao Beach.
Getting there: The quickest way to get to mainland Shimane is by plane. You can fly from Haneda to Yonago (75 minutes) or Haneda to Izumo (90 minutes). You can also take the JR Nozomi Shinkansen from Tokyo to Okayama and change to the Yakumo Limited Express for Yonago or Matsue (about five and a half hours). From the airport or the train stations, you can rent a car to get to the beaches along Shimane’s beautiful coastline. There are buses from either train station but their times can be inconvenient and irregular.
To get to the Oki Islands, fly from Haneda to Yonago and take an airport transfer bus or taxi to Shichirui Port (in Matsue) or Sakaiminato Port (in Sakaiminato) for the Oki Kisen Line ferry (one to two hours). Note that ferry times can become irregular during winter so it’s best to plan a trip to the Oki Islands for sometime between spring and early autumn.
Alternatively, you can fly from Haneda to Izumo (90 minutes) or Haneda to Osaka Itami Airport (70 minutes) and then take a direct flight to Oki Airport on Dogo (50 minutes from Osaka Itami and 30 minutes from Izumo).
Getting around: From Dogo, you need to take the Oki Kisen Line to any of the three Dozen islands (Nishinoshima, Nakanoshima and Chiburijima). To travel between the Dozen islands, you need to get on a different ferry service, the Oki Dozen Islands Inter-Island Ferry.
To get around on the Oki Islands, you can rent a car in advance. Click here for more information. If you’re up to it, you can also rent standard or electric-assist bicycles to cycle the length and breadth of the islands.
More info: The Nishinoshima Tourism Association and Ama Town Tourism Association provide great information about the Oki Islands. If you’re looking for more detailed information about the geology of these islands, check out the Oki Islands Geopark website.
Photos by Jesse Ramnanansingh.