Shimoda was an unremarkable small fishing port in Edo times, until the US Commodore Perry arrived with his black ships and (well, in short) intimidated the Japanese into opening up to trade. A hundred and fifty years later the ships are a tourist attraction, there’s a street called Perry Road, and the local economy does well from historical tourism. It seems that all is forgiven and if anything the memory of Mr Perry is celebrated in these parts.
But really, aside from the train station and a few restaurants and onsen, there’s no real reason to stay too long in Shimoda town once you’ve seen the old ships. The surrounding beaches are what makes this town truly magnificent to us: Perry did well to find some of the most beautiful and varied paradise beaches on Honshu … though it is not recorded if he enjoyed swimming as much as being intimidating.
Shirahama BeachThe most famous beach, and deservedly so - it is stunning - is Shirahama. It’s a legendary strip of gorgeous white sand, looking out towards the Izu 7 Islands, with dramatic cliffs and a James Bond scenic road for access. At Shirahama the water is remarkably clear and small, rocky cliffs on the south end have some fun jumping and rockpool potential.
Outside of the summer beach season and Golden Week (early May) there is never a problem getting a spot on the sand, but in peak times if crowds aren’t your thing then it might be best to head elsewhere. Summer brings a sort of Nanpa (basically, teenage boys picking up girls … or trying to) festival and it’s not uncommon for people to compare Shirahama rather unfavourably to Tokyo’s slightly seedy night spots like Roppongi.
Such a comparison is undeserved as outside of a few weeks in summer you’ll only have the surfers to really worry about when swimming: there for the excellent swells and high waves that crash into the shore.It’s recommended to spice up your swim and try your own body surfing here, with or without a board.
Tatadohama BeachAnother great spot, this time just a little south of Shimoda, is Tatadohama Beach. Very similar to Shirahama, this one has the same white sand, clear waters, good waves, but perhaps slightly more impressive cliffs. With caves and rocks to climb on there’s lots to explore here. You’ll find this to be a slightly less crowded affair, though come high season it’s still going to be busy, and there are a lot of beach resorts and hotels nearby.
Out of season, as with its neighbours, there are always a lot of surfers hanging out. They bring a nice laidback vibe be it in the ocean or picnicking, barbequing and partying beachside.
Tsumekizaki BeachMoving east from Shimoda town there is a little rocky outpost called Tsumekizaki. Here you’ll find a pleasant park, some cheap and cheerful restaurants, a parking area, lighthouse, and of course, a beach. The rugged beach here has a different feeling to its more sandy neighbours, with lots of rocks and rockpools (great for jumping and lobster spotting), a perfect C shaped bay, and some fine, soft grass to relax on.
The water here is calm and easy swimming, though not on any grand scale, sizewise. If you are in the mood for something a bit less conventional, oozing with nature and more rustic charm this might be your place.