All the cool kids swim at Mizushima beach

Posted by in Mike's blog

What does your perfect beach look like?

Island location?  No man-made structures?  Soft sand?  Calm, crystal-clear water?  Natural shade?  Litter-free?  Secluded?  We aren’t picky beach-goers, at least we may not have been until we spent the day at Mizushima, which happens to have all of the things I described above (except for the secluded part…this IS Japan after all).

Most of the beaches we have spent time at around were conquered by capitalists long ago.  In Ostia (near Rome) we saw every possible square metre of beachfront property was owned and had been developed by someone, either the city or private (possibly “organized” businessmen).  In Ontario (Canada), merchants are highly competitive in beach areas.

On Mizushima, I saw a couple of signs and a dock.  It wasn’t possible to buy anything.  There wasn’t even a bathroom.

The lack of anything else built by men might have something to do with its location.  Mizushima is a tiny island that is mostly made of beach.  There are some trees and rocks, which provide both shade and protection from the harsher waves in the waters on its east side.  The only way to access it is by ferry, which unfortunately costs ¥1000 for each person.  Whoever owns that boat is very, very rich.

Why am I wasting time teaching English when I could be driving a boat for ¥50000+ per kilometre!?

We drove from Fukui, through Tsuruga city to the little town of Irohama on the Tsuruga peninsula (here’s the route).  Once there, we parked and boarded the ferry to Mizushima (水島).  The night before we went I tried to learn as much as possible about this place through internet research, and I came up frustratingly short.  We had never driven anywhere close to this far out of the city…so we were a little nervous.  Here are some things we learned that might help some others in the future should google be so kind as to direct them here:

  1. The road from Tsuruga city to Irohama is mountainous and full of sharp, scary turns.  Our little car has a little engine and if it had feelings it would cry a little every time I asked it to go up a hill.  It was an emotional journey.  When elevation is higher and roads look like this on maps, we now know what to expect.
  2. There is nothing on Mizushima.  Nothing, nothing, nothing.  It’s fantastic for relaxing/swimming on the beach, but there is NO TOILET.  The Bunny didn’t seem to mind making the water a little bit warmer.  Nothing also means that there is no food and nowhere to change on the island.
  3. There is a convenience store in Irohama close to the ferry platform.  It has a bathroom that can be used for changing and making toilet water warmer.  It also has *some* food, but not much.  Of the three times we went there, there was one point when they had some onigiri and a few bentos.  They sold out quick, because Irohama has no restaurant.  We walked around, we asked…there’s nothing.  Thankfully we contributed to the limited amount of food selling out quick.  The last reliable place to get food before going to Mizushima is this Family Mart in Tsuruga at the point when route 33 changes directions and goes north.
  4. The ferry cost us ¥1000 each and parking costs ¥1500…making this visit significantly more expensive than the ritzy private beaches near Rome.
  5. This is common sense, but it’s worth mentioning:  Ferry access only means that you can only bring what you can carry onto the island.  We saw people get creative with dollies for their coolers and equipment – it was easier for them before they got to the sand part.

In summary, expect tense driving situations, bring food, get changed and go to the bathroom BEFORE boarding the ferry, don’t pack more than you can carry and bring enough cash for parking and the ferry.

Once we got there, the journey was well worth it.

Beach culture: Everybody marks their territory with a “beach tent”, umbrella, or picnic blanket. Many had coolers, some even had portable tables and benches.

The sand was as soft as could be, but the island wasn’t completely rock-free.  One of the tidbits I managed to find out before we went was that if we aren’t careful, there are pointy rocks that like to eat bare feet.  Some water shoes would have been a good idea.  In the water there were some narrow paths through what we call “the rocky part”, which only lasts 5-10 metres before it’s nothing but sandy waters.  We couldn’t find the deep end, there may not have been one.  The water was around 1.5 metres deep in most places, and it never rose past my shoulders.

I didn’t hurt my feet in “the rocky part” because I was able to clearly see where the rocks were.

Speaking of the water, in the part of the world where I come from there’s a little more colour to it.  Around Mizushima…it’s like glass.  I could not believe my eyes from the moment I boarded the ferry.  Swimming in it was even more fun, until we tasted it.  Mizushima is in Tsuruga bay, which is part of the Sea of Japan, which may as well be called “the other side of the Pacific ocean”, so this stuff was saltier than Québec french fries with added salt.  I’m accustomed to swimming water tasting bad because it’s either dirty or chlorinated, not over-salted.

Suntanning isn’t “in” here. It’s either water or shade. We’ve heard that the fair/pasty look that white people get from not going outside is heavily sought after. There wasn’t a single person sun tanning on Mizushima.

We first heard about Mizushima the night before we went through one of the prefecture’s tourism websites (scroll down to #8).  The picture captivated me, but I couldn’t expect the beach to appear as secluded as the photo from that website.  There were lots of other people, but there was still more than enough space to enjoy both the water and the beach.  We hadn’t a hope of scoring one of the “spots” near the shade, so we pitched our little mini-tent on a nice plot of sand and used it to eat our lunch before exploring the water with the bunny.

Mary and I enjoyed our beach day, but the Bunny had way more fun than us.  She rode in an inflatable tube (as did MOST other people, big and small) and she laughed and splashed until her hands turned into prunes.  She’s pretty accustomed to drawing attention from people who want to compliment her on her cuteness wherever she goes, but in the water it was different.  At one point we found ourselves surrounded by 13 (yes, I counted) young adult Japanese women in those inflatable tubes – all of them hanging on her every word.  On the shore, she made friends with a little girl closer to her age and they build a sand mountain/fortress together.  Do beaches amplify the Bunny’s cuteness powers?  In our experience, yes.

Still not sure if you want to make the trip?  Perhaps more photos from ours will help convince you: