Hayama: a treasure of a Japanese seaside town
By Darren Gore on 6 Nov 2017
The seaside towns of Kamakura and Enoshima, down on the Shonan coast south-west of Tokyo, are firmly on the tourist map. With both easily accessible from the capital, the former mixes historic shrines and temples with a laid-back surf culture, while the latter is a full-on beach party through the warmer months: imagine Tokyo’s vibrant Roppongi neighborhood transplanted to the seaside. There is a third option along this stretch of coast, however, that offers all of the above minus the jam-packed crowds, and so is that much more relaxing.
Hayama, which lies 8km south-east of Kamakura, has historically been where the most elite of Japanese society chose to build their residences: no less than the Japanese imperial family has kept a villa here for over 120 years. These days it blends high and low culture in a way that very few Japanese towns do: from upscale restaurants and a sacred Shinto shrine to rough-and-ready beach hut joints serving cocktails to swimwear-clad club kids looking for a good time.
It might be Hayama’s relative isolation that keeps the thronging crowds at bay: the town lacks a train station of its own and is instead accessed by various buses from Zushi station (1hr 5 mins direct from Tokyo station on the JR Yokosuka line). LoveInn Japan’s recommended route is to take a Keikyu bus bound for either ‘Hayama Isshiki via Kaigan’ or ‘(Hayama) Fukushi Bunka Kaikan via Kaigan’, and after a roughly 15-minute ride alight at the Morito Kaigan bus stop.
From here Morito Beach, one of Hayama’s two main beaches, is just a one-minute walk away. Here the shoreline is dominated by a rocky point, with further clusters of rocks just a little offshore that are fun to swim out to and then clamber all over (or simply walk out to them when the tide is out). Look further out to the horizon and you’ll notice that some of the rocks, situated hundreds of meters off the coast, feature the red torii arches usually found at the entrance to a Shinto shrine. These signify that, out at sea, this is one of the approach routes to the sacred Morito Shrine (aka Morito Daimyojin).
This is one of Hayama’s highlights: much is made of Kamakura’s charming blend of centuries-old temples and shrines with easy-going beach culture, but in reality, those two facets lie some physical distance from each other. In Hayama though, the town’s most revered shrine sits right by the beach, overlooking the sea. Morito Shrine has a history stretching back over 850 years, with the present buildings dating to four centuries ago, and was established by the first shogun of the Kamakura period (1185-1333), when that nearby town was the de facto Japanese capital. The silhouetted torii arches almost ‘floating’ atop the sea make this a beautiful spot to gaze out over the ocean from, and on a clear day, you can even see Mt. Fuji!
Exiting Morito Shrine, cross the picturesque red bridge that takes you across a river to the other half of Morito Beach (this bridge is a great place to snap a selfie, with the shrine and the ocean as your backdrop). This side of the beach is sandier and less rugged and is a popular place for ocean-side barbecues, picnics, and nomikai (‘drinking parties’). Just a stone’s throw away meanwhile, and highly recommended for refreshing Chinese teas and delicious shoronpo steamed buns, is the stylish contemporary tea house Morito Sabou.
Next, we have two choices for reaching Hayama’s other main beach, Isshiki Beach. Either stroll southwards along the shore directly (the going gets a little rocky in places, but isn’t challenging) or follow the main road (Route 207) that hugs the coastline and is a hugely popular cycling route. The latter option gives the opportunity to check out a variety of cool, independent cafes, shops, and galleries that lie both on this highway and dotted around the nearby backstreets. Hayama Sunday is a women’s boutique offering an own-brand collection of seaside-friendly womenswear (plus jewelry for dogs!), while Sunday Postcard (there seems to be a theme emerging here) is a photographic art gallery open on Sundays only. Still, on an artistic tip, further south along Route 207 just as we reach the Isshiki area, is the Museum of Modern Art. Opened in 1951 and also with two locations in Kamakura, this was Japan’s very first museum dedicated solely to modern art, and it thrives today with regular exhibitions of both Japanese and international artists.
Down on Isshiki Beach itself, the warmer months see rows of wooden ‘beach house’ bars and cafes (some with a DJ or live music) attracting the party crowd through to early fall, with Blue Moon being one of the most popular. In winter this stretch of beach is an atmospheric setting for a contemplative walk alone or with a significant other, and all year round it attracts surfers who say that Hayama boasts cleaner waters than elsewhere along the Shonan coast.
Our final recommended stop is as far south as you can go in Hayama: the sizable cape of Chojagasaki is a dramatic place to watch the sun gradually set over, or for the more adventurous to dive into the ocean from.
Hopefully, I’ve persuaded you to make that little extra effort to reach this treasure of a seaside town that so many tourists overlook. For up-to-date info on what’s going on down in Hayama, follow the town’s official Instagram: @hayama_official
Darren came to Japan to study 11 years ago, and never made it back home to the UK. Since then he’s built up a detailed ‘mental map’ of Tokyo by intentionally getting himself lost, and loves taking visiting friends way off the well-beaten tourist track. In his free time Darren can usually be found in the backstreets of Koenji or Asagaya, with camera in one hand and a yakitori stick in the other.