We all know that Japan is special in every form and way. So one would assume that there are things about the Japan beaches that are unique to Japan. You’re absolutely right! When it comes to public spaces, there are unspoken rules that — regardless if you’re a local or foreigner — everyone is obligated to follow.
Any and every beach trip calls for a relaxing day in the sun surrounded by sand and sea. We wouldn’t want to disrupt someone else’s peaceful day out by not following the unspoken Japan “beach etiquette”.
There isn’t a set-in-stone beach etiquette, so to speak. But, there are things better off knowing than without that will guarantee a smooth beach adventure in Japan. Here are a couple of tips you should take note of before your beach-venture!
There is “swim season”
Just from reading the title, you’ll be wondering, “what is swim season?” Japan has a term called umi-baraki (海茨城), which is Japanese for “beach opening”. This is basically the indication that the swim season has started. It’s unusual to think of beaches to be open or closed, but in Japan, they can be! While they wouldn’t physically be closed with metal gates and all, everyone in the country knows it’s not the time to be visiting a beach.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone is still welcome to go to the beaches at any time of the year. One thing you have to note is that there won’t be any lifeguards around, so all beach activities are at your own risk.
The Japanese have the umi-baraki for a number of reasons, the main one being safety. The exact date of the “swim season” is determined by the water quality, temperature and other similar factors. During this “swim season”, you’ll see not only lifeguards around but also ropes in the sea to indicate the separation of safe areas and deeper waters — these strongly depend on the tides and currents.
Some beaches may even have a “no swim” rule throughout the entire year. You’re basically not allowed to enter the waters at all! This might be because of dangerous factors like boat and jet ski paths, and dangerous currents. Before heading down to a beach, look up if it’s under the “no swim” beaches like Kabira Bay.
Your trash is yours
If you notice anything about Japan, it’s that the country is speckless. It is known as one of the cleanest countries in the world! This includes the beaches as well — you won’t see trash lying around on the white sand. The only things you’ll find on the beach are washed up seaweed (if any) and seashells.
All this is because there’s this sense of individual responsibility when it comes to public spaces in Japan — beaches included. The locals (expats, as well) will not leave behind what wasn’t already there before, and that includes primarily trash. Your trash is your own, and they still belong to you until they’re binned properly in the trash bins.
The whole concept of keeping your own trash is a huge thing in Japan. Since there aren’t many bins lying around in the first place, locals just hold on to their trash till they come across one — sometimes they won’t and they’ll take it all the way home to bin it then!
The best thing to do before going to the beach is to bring extra bags with you to store all your trash. Expect the beaches to not have a single bin at all — so you wouldn’t want to be walking around with handfuls of trash, do you?
If you come from a country where beaches are full of rental shops for your beach mats, towels and other beach stuff, you’re lucky. Some beaches in Japan are just the sun, sand and sea — no stalls set up for these rental services, and not even an eatery in sight.
For this very reason, come extremely prepared! Bring all you need for your beach trip — pack your beach towels, hats and other beach accessories. You may want to wear your swimsuit underneath your clothing just for convenience — it might be difficult to find a changing room at some beaches.
Don’t forget about refreshments! You don’t have to make your own food from home (unless you want to). Drop by a convenience store or supermarket on the way to the beach to get a couple of necessities — like a few bottles of water and some snacks. Do take note that depending on the beach, drinking alcohol might not be allowed, so check beforehand!
For those beaches that have cafes and stores, the items there tend to be more expensive. If you’re anything like me and want to save a few bucks, you’ll come with everything you need and more! If you don’t mind the extra splurge, the beachfront shops might be of convenience to you.
While this may not be a rule of some sort, but it’s a great tip to keep in mind, especially when chatting with fellow Japanese people. The Obon season is the time of the year where the people of Japan honour the spirits of their ancestors. Legend says that it’s during this time when the spirits return to land from the sea.
Because of such beliefs, many of the older generations wouldn’t be seen at the beach after this national holiday, when the ancestor spirits return to the sea. You’ll definitely see the younger generation people casually chilling on the seaside with their beach mats and big hats — they’re apparently unfazed by the unsettling stories of being pulled into the waters to their deaths by their ancestor spirits.
I guess if you’re a believer in legends, you might want to skip out on visiting the beach after the Obon season ends. Most people just go ahead with it — to be fair, there hasn’t been any news about suspicious disappearances at the Japan beaches, so I’d say it’s a safe bet that your beach trip in August is all safe and well.
To this day, I’m still amazed that everyone just knows these unspoken rules. But anyway, the next time you plan a beach day in Japan, don’t forget the Japan beach etiquette — we wouldn’t want to be the party ruiner when everyone is having a ton of fun in the sun!