“Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.”
- Walt WhitmanTravelling is as much about the experience as it is about the destination, but a great location can bring into blossom those joyous wild moments that you will treasure all your life. The right place brings a confluence of like-minded souls, a unity of desire and that special spark of je ne sais quoi. The young city of Minamiboso has such a place.
I say “young city” because Minamiboso City only came into existence through the merging of the towns of Chikura, Wada, Tomiyama, Shirahama and Maruyama back in 2006 to create the fifth largest city in terms of area covered in Chiba Prefecture. These towns had originally grown from tiny settlements in the ancient Awa Province in the Sengoku period and persisted through the Tokugawa Shogunate and Meiji Period up to the present day before the merger, and now still persist as districts in the city itself. As you may imagine, there is a lot of interesting history that took place in this area and there are a lot of historical sites, remains and relics in this part of the Boso Peninsula for those so inclined. However, what I want to talk about in this article is a great opportunity to immerse your self in some local contemporary culture, meet regular people and have some simple fun with food, drink and the sea: I’m talking about camping out on the beach.
To be honest, camping grounds in Japan are a relative novelty when compared to somewhere like Europe, but this means that the ones there are, are a cut above what you might expect. However, be sure to do your research before setting off anywhere in Japan with an eye to camp your way around so as to be sure you don’t find yourself stranded without a pitch between destinations.
The Tadara Kitahama Kaigan Camping Grounds are located in Tomiura Bay in the old district of Shirahama and are officially open from late July to mid-August. I just want to clarify that the beach is open to the public all year round but only during this period will there be life guards, certain amenities available, that I’ll come to in a second, and beach stalls on hand. These additional services are very useful and they also guarantee that during this prime period there are lots of people with whom to interact with. To be more specific, during the time that the beach is officially open there is a nominal fee of 500 yen a night to pitch your tent or park your camper van. For this price you will find at your disposal such things as clean toilets, outdoor showers and garbage collection but please be aware that you will still need to bring a lot of things with you that I will list later but first and foremost is your own accommodation as there are no tent rental services available.
You can park and pitch your tent in any available space but everything happens on a first-come-first-serve basis so it is worth arriving early on any given day. It is also probably advisable to bring with you what food and drink you want as the nearest town is a bit of a trek from the beach, over a kilometre away following the path by the adjacent river that feeds the bay. It is fine to barbeque here but again there are no barbeque rental services so you would need to bring that yourself too. If all these things are within your capabilities to do then the fun can really start.
The main reason and prime time to go to this beach is for the famous annual Tomiura Spanish Mackerel (or Aji in Japanese) Scooping event on July 27th. What happens here is that the organisers set up a large net fence in the sea sealing off part of the shore. Into this area they release a legion of Aji to briefly swim free before releasing revved up wannabe fishermen and women of all ages with nets to catch as many as they can. You a get a lot of families with their kids, groups of young people and a smattering of the older generation all united in their desire for “the Catch”. Certainly participation in such an event is not to everyone’s taste but even popping along to watch the display of a wide spectrum of human emotions ranging from exultant youths proudly showing off the huge mackerel they just netted, to distraught children bawling their eyes out because they failed to catch anything, is worth it. If you do wish to take part it will again only set you 500 yen for adults. The free-for-all starts at 11:30 am so be sure to be there well in advance of that.
Okay, so let’s say you’ve caught yourself a large mackerel or more, what’s next? You’ve two options, take it home and there are stalls selling carrying cases and other useful accoutrements on hand, or throw it on the barbeque that you spent the morning preparing. You’ll find that most of the people there are doing the latter and from this point on you’ll find yourself awash in the smell of cooking foods as their delectable aroma fills the air. The crack and pop of drinks being opened and consumed will punctuate the daylight hours and the sound of roaring waves beat like a drum throughout the hot summer day and long into the cool night.
Whilst many do go down for the Mackerel Scooping event it is worth staying over here anytime during the prime season. The beach is both sandy with some rocky areas but primarily rests on a shallow shelf of sand that extends out far and, due to its relative shallowness, is both warm and inviting.
If you are a beachcomber there are all sorts of interesting finds to be made and the plethora of driftwood is good for both collectors and throwing on the barbeque to get things started.
During this period the lifeguards are very active and keep a very close eye on everyone and have no qualms about letting you know what is going with regards the tides and weather.
The pair of outdoor showers are a godsend in the heat and for getting off all that sand that has accumulated in your Crocs as you’ve trekked up and down the long curving beach.
You can wash your dishes in the large outdoor sinks provided and they even have an area to separate out and deposit your refuse. This is collected every morning. If you are engaging in a barbeque then they have even provided a place in which to throw away your burnt cinders and ash. As I am sure you’ll agree all this for 500 yen is a bargain.
As I mentioned, a trip like this requires a bit of preparation so I thought I would outline the sort of things you may like to take. Most people come by car and there is a great deal of sense in this as Japanese summers are hot and if you are camping outdoors you will need to protect yourself from the elements and the space a car gives you means you won’t struggle to bring all you need. As I mentioned you are going to need somewhere to sleep, so a tent is essential. The cheapest and easiest way is to look in either Home Centres for cheap tents or check out the plethora of second-hand shops or Recycle shop as they are known in Japan. Both these places are good for sleeping bags and mats too. A barbeque is always a great way to pass the time and disposable barbeques can be bought from such places as drugstores to supermarkets. The beating sun during July is very likely to burn all but the most melanin-blessed individuals so I’d also recommend that you invest in some strong sun block and/or a tarpaulin to grant you some reprieve from the midday heat. Aside from the mackerel which you will be picking up from sea you’ll want to pick yourself up a good selection of food to last you through your stay, and I’d say the same for drink, from mineral water to alcohol, all of these will need to be brought with you, but fear not there are grocery shops in Tomiuracho if you follow the river that adjoins the beach inland and even restaurants on the way. I warn you that it is a bit of walk.
So, what about travel: Minamiboso is on the southern tip of Chiba prefecture and thus quite a journey from Tokyo. I would recommend going on this particular journey by rental car in which case it would take you about an hour and a half if you go over the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line that crosses the bay and then go down the coast to the town of Tomiura and follow signs for the beach. By train it will take you over three hours to get to Tomiura Station and then it is about a kilometre walk to the beach itself. For this kind of trip out, this will probably put off all but the toughest and most resourceful of travellers.
Anyway, if the fates allow it for you I would heartily recommend a trip over to Minamiboso, it’s a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and ideally suited for those of you staying for a decent period of time.