Summer in Suma
You might easily be forgiven for dismissing Suma, in Hyogo Prefecture, as one of the chain of ‘seaside’ stops you whizz through when travelling between Kobe and Himeji on the train. After all, how different can it really be from neighbouring Tsukimiyama or Takino-chaya? But once you get off and take a look around, you’ll see that Suma, one of Kobe’s western wards, has a lot to offer, whether you’re looking for fun in the sun, family-friendly activities, relaxation or a dash of history and culture.
Summer is well on its way, which makes now the perfect time to check out what is arguably Suma’s most famous attraction – its sandy shoreline. Yes, Suma Beach is one of the best-known and best-frequented spots for summertime sunbathing and swimming, which you are free to do between early July and late August (2015 dates are 9th July to 31st Aug) when the beach is formally declared “open”. Stroll along the shore at any other time of year, and you’ll probably only encounter a few fishermen and the odd windsurfer or two. During the summer months, though, the beach comes alive with hundreds of sunseekers during the day and hordes of partygoers at night. So splash around to your heart’s content – but be prepared to share your space! And if you want to make a night of it, hit the line of bars along the beach once the sun goes down for some well-deserved refreshment.
For a different kind of day out, Suma Aqualife Park beckons. Sitting at the Kobe end of Suma Beach, iconic glass-fronted, triangular-roofed building dominates the seafront and rivals the beach in its popularity with Kansai’s children. The range of sea life contained in this aquarium, which opened in 1957, spans turtles, salamanders, dolphins, sea otters, seals and penguins, plus a huge variety of freshwater and saltwater fish and sea creatures from rays and sharks to piranhas, spider crabs and sea urchins. Special daily shows feature dolphin displays, penguin performances and fish being fed, or you can even watch an otter eat an octopus (with live commentary). And once you’ve walked through the underwater tunnel in Amazon World and taken in the sights and sounds of the Pacific Ocean at the Wave Tank, there’s a small amusement park where kids can let off any built-up steam. A handy English guide to the aquarium can be found here.
If you feel like venturing away from the shore, you’ll find Suma Rikyu Park about a 10-minute walk inland. Formerly housing an imperial residence, this carefully maintained haven of green is well worth a visit, and the ¥400-yen entrance fee is good value for what’s on offer. Wander round perusing the extensive range of leafy plants and beautiful blooms, including specific gardens reserved for roses, irises, camellias, hydrangeas and peonies, or stop for lunch and observe the passers-by from one of the park’s many benches. If you’re visiting in summer, escape from the heat under a pavilion or in the shade around one of the park’s water-lily-coated koi ponds, and be sure to keep an eye out for herons and the occasional kingfisher. The main ‘Fountain Square’ offers entertainment for all the family with its mini-train at one end and terrace restaurant at the other, linked by a central line of fountains. Open during the daytime only for most of the year, in July and August the park can also be visited in the evening, when the central fountains are illuminated.
Walk west from the park gates and you’ll arrive at Sumadera, a Buddhist temple constructed over one thousand years ago and widely celebrated in Japanese literature not only for its spiritual atmosphere, but also as a place for relaxation and the chance to feel at one with Japan’s rich and vibrant history. The current main hall, a majestic wooden structure, dates from 1602 and is surrounded by a complex made up of smaller temples, gardens, a three-storey pagoda and a treasure museum containing various pieces of art, including a Buddha statue honoured with the title of ‘Important Cultural Property’. Built at the beginning of the samurai’s heyday in Japan, Sumadera is the site of a now-legendary episode from a twelfth-century clash between samurai clans, the Genpei War. In this tale, a samurai killed by the commander of the Minamoto clan is revealed, after his death, to be the beautiful and youthful flautist Taira no Atsumori. Over many years (and many retellings) Atsumori has become the epitome of a Japanese tragic hero. Today Suma-dera is the proud host of both his burial site and his flute.
So, whatever your tastes, whatever your age, Suma can provide plenty to keep you entertained during a sunny summer weekend, whether you’re a Kansai resident or a visitor to the area. Simply take the Sanyo/Hanshin line to SanyoSuma or Sumadera, or the JR line to Suma, hop off and you can find Suma’s many attractions just a few minutes’ walk from each other.