Summer is upon us and so is the need to escape the hustle and bustle of the big cities and rush to the sea. As an island country, Japan has thousands of amazing sea resorts and a lifetime will probably not be enough to visit them all. Here is my top 5. If you happen to live or travel to Kansai area, they are your must-go this summer.
Probably one of the most popular resorts in the south of Kansai, Shirahama -located in Wakayama prefecture – is an amazing mixture of beautiful landscapes and the mandatory fun attractions any sea resort must have. Shirahama -which literally means white beach- is famous for its 10km long white sand beach, but there’s more to this place than meets the eye. Of course, the white sand and the crystal-clear emerald see are enough for some tourists.
But if you want the full Shirahama experience, you must not miss three spots: Sandanbeki, Senjoujiki and Engestu-tou.
The first is a compound of caves created by the sea itself. You can visit it and experience the greatness of the ocean from within the huge mural walls. The second is another a natural form shaped by the waves. The wide plateau was there since 30.000 years ago and its shapes keeps changing year after year. The scenery at sunset is breathtaking, as the sky and the rocks seem to melt into one huge body, in the dark red and purple light. Just be careful because the rocks are slippery and the plateau is a few feet high.
The last one is probably a Shirahama highlight. The weird shaped island across the gulf, is hugely popular in Japan, because once a year(and yes only once) the sun at sunset shines precisely through the hole in the rocks. Photographers all over Japan gather during the period when the phenomenon is visible in order to catch the best shot. Probably one of the top 10 views in Japan, along with Diamond Fuji-san.
(I missed it by exactly 1 day….)
And if we speak about amazing sea resorts in Kansai, we cannot miss Awajishima. Why is it special? First the beaches might not be the blinding white of Shirahama but they have that special beauty specific to Seto-naikai sea. The island is connected to mainland by the Akashi bridge one of the largest bridges in the world, built after the model of the San Francisco Golden Gate. To get to Awajishima you just need to board a bus, from Maiko station(mainland) and you will get there in just 20 minutes, 20 minutes of breathtaking sceneries. Of course you can board the bus directly from Sannomiya(Kobe) station and the trip takes about 1 hour, but I recommend making a stop in Maiko first just to get a glimpse of the bridge in its entirety.
Apart from the view of the bridge and the nice beaches, Awajishima is also famous for the Awaji-yume-butai, a natural park of huge size and proportion. You can visit the 20 layers of vegetation and also the greenhouses with plants from all over the world. Needless to say, the view from the top of the Yume-Butai is one for a lifetime.
Most of you have probably heard of Ise Jingu the ancient shrine ensemble in south Mie prefecture. A few train stations away from it, there’s s small piece of heaven on earth called Toba. The mountain and the sea create a mirific scenery with white houses and hotels spread all over the hill slopes, against a magnetic blue sky. The place is famous for a few things. One of them is the Dolphin island, Iruka jima, accessible by ferry from Toba port. The ferry is quite expensive but the view is totally worth the money. You can see the hundreds of small islands spread all over the gulf, each one with its story(mostly based on their shapes, but that is a theme for another article;)) Also the ferries are all themed, the one I got on was inspired by the Urashima Tarou fairytale. Iruka jima is famous during the summer for the many attractions for children. The beaches are also amazingly beautiful with the hill slopes abruptly plunging into the sea, with tiny groves and caves all over the shore. A tropical paradise just a few miles away from luxuriant civilization. For a second, I felt like I was on the set of the Pirates of the Caribbean. Iruka jima also has a cable car system(quite shaky especially on windy days) and am observatory from which again, you can see the whole Toba bay. I will let the pictures describe the beauty of the place, I am running out of epithets.
Another thing Toba is famous for is the pearls collected from the bay. There is a huge museum called the Mikimoto pearl museum extending across a bridge over to an adjacent island. The entrance is 5000 yen, a bit over my budget so no pictures from the inside. However there are plenty of souvenir shops around and the stuff you find in there (mostly dolphin, turtle or pearl related) are enough to keep you busy for about a whole afternoon.
Before leaving Toba there’s one more must-see. It’s called Futamigaura, the gulf of the second sight. It’s famous for the Meoto iwa 夫婦岩, two rocks connected by a sacred rope a shimenawa. It’s part of the Futami okitama jinja shrine and it gathers thousands of couples every year, who come there to pray for a happy and stable relationship.
This is my top three sea resorts in Kansai. Of course there are many more places, some famous some not, but all having that unique beauty of the Japanese shores. If you are spending the summer in the area don’t waste any time and visit as many as possible!