In the West, the only time you’re likely to see a “closed” sign on a beach is if there’s a shark about or sea conditions resemble the inside of a washing machine. Either way, it is the desire for self-preservation — rather than for law and order — that sees swimmers dutifully heed the restriction.
In Japan, beaches are operated more like outdoor public pools. At the beginning of summer — usually in early or mid July — they “open.” Lifeguards come and set up watch towers. Authorized operators of umi no ie (beach houses) set up their shower-and-yakisoba (fried noodles) shacks in specially designated areas. Next come the parking-booth operators and beach-ball and surf-mat renters. Surrounding shops and cafes start staying open longer hours, and finally — on the weekends — come the hordes of city folk, keen for a splash and paddle. For about two months, it’s like the circus is in town.
This coming Monday is the Marine Day national holiday, and the long weekend will see the “opening” of many beaches in the Kanto region. Most of the beaches on Chiba’s Boso Peninsula are already open (including Ichinomiya and Shirasato) or are opening from Saturday (Shirahama, Katsuura, Choshi). In Kanagawa Prefecture, most of the beaches are now open: notably Yuigahama and Zaimokuza near Kamakura, and Hashirimizu and Nagahama in Yokosuka.
The end of the beach season in Japan is tied to something a little easier for your average Western swimmer to comprehend: Poisonous box-jellyfish tend to turn up on Kanto shores around mid August.
Still, most of the Kanagawa beaches will remain open till Aug. 31. The Chiba beaches close a little earlier, in the second or third week of August.