Japan’s myriad of islands and a huge expanse of coastline means it is blessed with some truly spectacular ocean scenery. Everything from perfectly transparent waters where you can watch schools of fish swim by, to dramatic cliffs that plunge into the waves far below - the country is a dream for anyone who loves their seaside vistas. But with so much choice available, which beaches should you visit during your stay? These are some of the country’s finest places with transparent waters.
1. Kumejima, Okinawa Prefecture
Kume Island, at the southern end of Japan, looks almost like paradise - its pure white sands and gin clear waters make for a truly spectacular sight that just begs to be photographed. What’s more, the local town of Kumejima is also worth visiting - the unique Kumejima-tsumugi silk cloths produced there has been deemed culturally important by the Japanese authorities.
2. The heart rocks of Kourijima, Okinawa Prefecture
Kourijima, which can be reached by a road bridge from Okinawa, is another area of Japan’s coast that is overflowing with riches when it comes to beautiful beaches. One, in particular, has proven especially popular, not just for the waters but the twin heart-shaped rocks that are just above the surface and have inspired a local legend that they are the remains of humanity’s first couple. They have also led to the Kourijima’s nickname of Love Island.
3. Imgya Marine Garden, Miyako-jima
Imgya Marine Garden and the quiet cove of Imgya Bay are good options for families seeking calm waters to swim on the island of Miyako-jima. Walkways near the beach also rise to a viewpoint offering 360-degree views of the coral reef and East China Sea. The wider island’s eastern cape is also a picturesque location and has been designated a Place of Scenic Beauty by the Japanese authorities. The views from the lighthouse at the cape’s tip are popular with walkers eager to watch or photograph the sunrise.
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4. Kabira Bay, Ishigaki-jima
Famous for its beautiful mix of white sands and stunning clear waters, Kabira Bay on Ishigaki-jima is another of Okinawa Prefecture’s coastal gems. Due to the fast-flowing waters, the bay is off limits to swimmers but those who take to the sea in a glass-bottomed boat are in for a treat - the clear waters enabling you to easily view the sea floor and local fish species. The island and its thick vegetation are also part of the Iriomote-Ishigaki National Park.
5. Nishihama on Aka-jima
Widely regarded as one of Japan’s most stunning beaches, Nishihama on Aka Island features a kilometre-long stretch of enticing white sands and boasts clear blue seas that almost blur with the horizon on cloud-free days. The beach is also home to a statue remembering Shiro the dog and his plucky tale. The pet puzzled its owners by disappearing every day only to return soaking wet. They later realised he was swimming to an island a couple of miles away to meet up with his girlfriend, a female dog called Marilyn.
6. Hirizo Beach (Shizuoka Prefecture)
Stony Hirizo Beach on Honshu may not have the stunning sands of previous entries but it is a snorkeller’s paradise! It boasts waters that are so clear you can see metres of this transparency and abundant local wildlife have made it a very popular spot among visitors. Seasonal pleasure boats also open up opportunities for exploring the local cliffs from the water as well as taking the trip across to the nearby island.
7. Awana Beach (Okinawa Prefecture Tokashikijima)
Tokashiki-jima in the Kerama islands is home to the beautiful white sands of Awana Beach. The view from the nearby observation deck offers fantastic panoramic vistas of the coast and the neighbouring islands. Located within the Okinawa Kaigan Quasi-National Park, the island is a popular spot with tourists and is home to a number of hotels. It is also close to nearby Aka island - with its stunning beach of Nishihama - should you be tempted to hop on a ferry and bag both beaches on the same trip.
The tiny crescent-shaped island of Minna-jima lies a couple of kilometres to the west of Okinawa but despite its position, it can be reached in just 15 minutes by a high-speed ferry. This means its enticing white beaches are well within reach of day trippers. Affectionately dubbed Croissant Island, owing to its shape, the isle is surrounded by reefs, making it a popular snorkelling destination. The smallness of Minna-jima means the four-kilometre circuit around the edge of the island will appeal to walkers of all ages and abilities too. There are limited facilities on the island so make sure to pack food and drink if you are planning on making a day of it.
9. Tomari Beach, Shikine-jima
Another small isle, this time measuring roughly 3 km (1.9 miles) long by 2.5km (1.5 miles) wide, Shikine-jima is one of Izu Islands which run in a rough line out into the Philippine Sea to the south of Tokyo. Indeed, it can be reached by ferry from the Japanese capital, making it a good option for day-trippers looking to escape the bustling metropolis for somewhere more peaceful. The island’s most popular stretch of sand is Tomari Beach, a popular spot located within an oval bay with a narrow entrance that shelters the transparent waters.
Located amid the Ogasawara archipelago, the island of Chichijima is not only home to some fine beaches, but will also appeal to wildlife fans. Green turtles are among the species that call the area home and, although a limited number are caught for consumption in traditional island dishes, a conservation programme has stabilised the population and it is slowly growing. There are a number of beautiful beaches - including John and Jinny Beach in the south and Miyanohama and Tsurihama in the north. The view from the cliffs at the Nagasaki Observatory down into the bay below is a particular highlight.
Located across John and Jinny Beaches on the south of Chichijima lies the small and uninhabited island of Minamijima - and a true gem of a beach. The beach in question is connected to the sea only through an impressive sea arch, and the bay which the waters pass is full of white sand that turns the sea an azure colour. The island is also home to a host of indigenous animals and plants, so wildlife fans will also be in their element.
12. Yonaha-Maehama Beach, Miyako-jima
Another spectacular beach on the island of Miyako (after entry number three), the bay of Yonaha on the south-west of the isle boasts exceptional transparency and the beach of Yonaha-Maehama - also known simply as Maehama - is one of its crowning jewels. It extends for a whopping seven kilometres and is popular among swimmers and other water sports fans. Those who would rather stay on the sands will also love it as a vantage point to enjoy sublime sunsets.
13. Takeno Beach, Nekozaki peninsula, Hyogo
A very popular resort in Hyogo Prefecture, Takeno Beach on the Nekozaki peninsula boasts a kilometre of white sands and gin clear waters and is a very popular destination among families thanks to its sheltered location and shallow depth. What’s more, its popularity means there are cafe and bar facilities available to enjoy a little food when not out on the sand. The surrounding area is also popular for trekking and a little geopark exploration.
14. Tsunoshima, Yamaguchi Prefecture
The approach to the island of Tsunoshima, just off Honshu, has been hailed as one of the finest in the country - and it’s easy to see why. A mile-long bridge (1.7km), which was only built in 2000, snakes its way across the emerald green waters straight from the mainland and makes for a striking and unforgettable introduction to this small but beautiful island. Little wonder that the bridge and vista have become a popular spot for film-makers and advertisers. And, of course, it’s equally popular with tourists eager to enjoy the island’s beaches, which enjoy similarly picturesque waters.
15. Shimamui Coast, Shakotan Peninsula, Hokkaido
The stunning Shakotan Peninsula on Hokkaidō is a ruggedly beautiful section of countryside worthy of exploration. It is just 30km (19 miles) into the Sea of Japan, and its mountainous terrain means that there are many picture postcard seaside cliffs to enjoy. The waters of Shimamui are a particular highlight, with the viewpoint above the beach proving breathlessly beautiful. A path snakes its way down to the waters which are almost perfectly transparent.
The picturesque tiny island of Kashiwajima sits off the south-western tip of Shikoku island and is a very popular spot among visitors. Linked to Kochi via two small bridges, it is home to a small harbour and port that offers diving services amid the clear waters, which are teeming with wildlife. The shallow waters that separate the island from Shikoku allows you to see right down to the seafloor for any fish swimming about. Speaking of which, the village is home to a number of restaurants - and seafood is among them.
17. Heart Rock on Amami Oshima
The island of Amami Ōshima - the largest in the Amami archipelago - is home to a number of natural charms, from a number of fine beaches like the one at Tomori (pictured) to the Mangrove Primeval Forest on the east coast. Among these are the aquamarine-coloured waters of ‘heart rock’, a natural rock formation which is only exposed at low tides and is located just to the south of Akaogi in the north-east. It is said to be a 'power spot’ - or a spiritual place worth seeking out.
18. The phantom beach of Yurigahama, Yoron-jima
Yoron - one of the Amami islands - is famous in Japan for its white sandy beaches. Yurigahama’s ‘phantom beach’ is no exception. It will linger long in the memory, but timing is key. It sits off Okaneku Beach and is stunning thanks to the landscape’s mix of flat sparkling sands and transparent waters. But it is only exposed at low tide. The waters rapidly sweep back in as a result of the low gradient, so make sure you don’t get caught out by the incoming tide while enjoying a stroll.
19. Tsutsukihama Beach, Iki island
The mesmerising waters of Tsutsukihama Beach are a particular highlight of Iki island. This 600 metre (2,000 ft) long expanse of white sands boasts excellent water transparency. If you can tear yourself away, the wider island’s other sites include Saru-iwa - or Monkey Rock - on to the west, a 40-minute boat cruises around, exploring some of the local caverns and coastal cliffs. It is also well connected by ferry and air.
20. Uradome Coast, Iwami, Tottori
The Uradome Coast at Iwami will appeal to those who love not just sandy beaches but also rugged coastal terrain. This stretch is a scenic coastal inlet and boasts a myriad of small islands and jagged cliffs that is begging to be explored - which you will be able to do so in comfort thanks to the small boat cruises which cater to tourists.
21. Nishihama, Hateruma Island
Nishihama on Hateruma Island is a true gem that regularly reaches top 10 lists of most picturesque Japanese beaches. The transparent waters sparkle like jewellery, and its gentle waves mean it is the only spot on the island where swimming is permitted. A trip to the island also gives tourists a chance to claim bragging rights by setting foot on the most southerly spot of all of Japan’s manned islands. This makes the island a popular place to visit.
Azure seas and stunning sands
Dramatic sea arches, crystal clear waters where surf and sky blur into one, and majestic white sands - Japan has the lot. And as this list shows, there are some truly stunning locations out there - with even more not included here. Which will you visit first?
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