Japan allows relatively easy access to miles of coastline along the Pacific Ocean on its east side, and the Sea of Japan on its west. The coastline is riddled with bays and inlets of all shapes, so exposure is the key to finding the right waves here. As in many other surf destinations in the northern hemisphere, the fall and winter seasons bring larger, more powerful waves. The summer, however, can make for some very enjoyable surfing conditions.
The Japanese summer is very hot and humid, making the beach a great place to spend the day. The most popular surfing locations along the Pacific are around Fujisawa, in Kanagawa prefecture (just southwest of Tokyo and Yokohama), and south of there through Aichi, Mie, and Wakayama prefectures. Along the Sea of Japan, some popular surf spots can be found just outside Kyoto, Shimane, and Niigata. The Sea of Japan, however, is in a rather peculiar location, nestled between mainland Asia (China and Korea) and Japan, so waves on this side are a bit trickier to come by.
I’ve surfed in California, Hawaii, and Saipan and live in Mie Prefecture in Japan, so most of my surfing experience has been in the Pacific Ocean. During the summer season, the waves most reliably come from southern swells. My personal favorite spots are Shonan and Tsujido (in Kanagawa prefecture) and Shima (in southern Mie prefecture). Even on the smallest days, I can expect at least a few enjoyable rides on a funboard. If you longboard, you almost can’t go wrong. Stand-up paddleboarding has also recently become popular in Japan. Without having checked the surf report, I’ve seen some really fun head-high waves about once a week down in the southern prefectures. The large bay in Mie is Ise Bay; in order to get to the waves, you’ll need a car to transport people and boards south enough to see the southern exposure. But the drive is totally worth it, as this region in Japan is full of old forests, agriculture, white-sand beaches, clear water, and charming small towns.
Because few train stations are close to beaches down south, transporting a board without a car can be a hassle. But most popular surf beaches will have at least a few surf shops offering rentals. Board rentals will often start around 2000-3000 yen for a day, but if you frequent a particular shop, they will often give you a discount on your subsequent visits. Japanese are very particular as to how they offer their hospitality, so out of respect for the culture and protocol, I recommend leaving your Western haggling and negotiating skills behind. They will most likely offer you a discount without you prompting it.
The water around Japan can be quite cold. Even on the Pacific side, you’ll probably find most of the surfers in full wetsuits. Personally, I’ve never surfed water colder than on California’s Central Coast. Japan would be second to that, but I’ve never used a wetsuit here.
I’ve also never surfed a reef break in Japan. Every break I’ve ever been to have been over a completely sandy bottom, so that eliminates much of the risk. Japan is no stranger to sharks, but a shark attack here is far less common than other surf destinations. Last year saw the first shark attack in a few years, off the coast of Aichi prefecture, but it wasn’t fatal. Great whites and tiger sharks are incredibly rare off the coast of Japan, so the less-aggressive black tips and white tips will probably be the largest threats. Jellyfish are pretty common, and will be in greater numbers depending on the season and the moon. This doesn’t seem to deter very many people, though.
Surfing is much less popular a sport in Japan than it is in other surf destinations, so you won’t find as much competition for waves as you will in, for example, Hawaii or California. But the same unwritten rules of courtesy apply, regarding waiting your turn for a wave, allowing one person per wave, and respecting the environment hosting your session.
Finally, if you are in Japan without a car and without a surfboard, the best place you can go to enjoy some good surf is Fujisawa, in Kanagawa prefecture. From the main train stations, you can board lines that run parallel to the beaches that will take you to any number of stations only a walk away from decent breaks. There will be many surf shops, cafes and restaurants, the beaches are beautiful, and stretch for miles and miles of very beautiful ocean, in view of Mt. Fuji. Happy surfing!