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Friday, July 15, 2005
SCHOOL IS OUT; TIME FOR SHONAN
Beach bars, boards, bikinis . . .
With its grayish volcanic sand, hordes of sunseekers and slightly murky sea, Shonan -- running from Hayama to Odawara along the coast of Kanagawa Prefecture -- may not exactly be "The Beach," but for those without the time or money to get out of Kanto this summer, this beach expanse -- an hour by train south of Tokyo and half that from Yokohama -- offers you moments when you feel like you're half a world away from the steamy metropolis.
The charms of the shrines and temples of Kamakura are an obvious attraction, but what really sets Shonan apart in the summer are the shanty towns that spring up -- communities built around beach houses along the seafront in July, before disappearing -- just as swiftly -- at the end of August.
Like the sakura blossoms in springtime, their lives are short and their beauty is all the better appreciated while imbibing a skinful of booze. With that in mind, here's a rough guide to the best of the beach houses from Hayama to Enoshima -- a mammoth bayside bar crawl.
Home to an Imperial summer residence and a thriving artistic community, laid-back Hayama is the least accessible, yet arguably the most inviting destination in Shonan.
Isshiki Beach is home to probably the most well-known beach house in the area, Blue Moon, as well as other popular haunts.
Blue Moon ( www.bluemoonhayama.net ) is an unmissable teepee-style edifice -- a relaxing "organic space" now in its ninth summer, specializing in organic food, beer and wine and acoustic-music performances. You can get a massage here too, as well as at the other Hayama joints listed below.
Shorintei ( www.shorin-tei.com ) is a friendly bar selling a cheap selection of tapas made with local fish and seafood as well as mighty breakfast shakes; there are also parties at weekends.
Umigoya Mana ( www.umigoya.net ) is a Pacific-style beach house with a daily program of activities for adults and children -- from water sports to tai chi. There are also live music events from 6 p.m. and Happy Hour runs 5-7 p.m. on weekdays with all drinks at 500 yen.
For all bars along Shonan, expect prices of around 600 yen for an alcoholic beverage, and about half that for soft drinks.
More commercial than Hayama's Isshiki, but easier to reach, is Zushi Beach, with a long string of bars along its beachfront.
Kannon ( www.kannon-beach.com ) is new -- a beach cafe by day and a livehouse by night, it sometimes boasts performances from major Japanese acts (Towa Tei of Deee-lite fame and Tomoyuki Tanaka of Fantastic Plastic Machine play July 22). Live music is from 4 p.m. with entry from 2,000 yen with one-coin (500 yen) food and drinks.
Oasis Latino ( www.oasis-latino.jp ) is a lively beach bar offering live Latin music, food and drink, with daily salsa lessons followed by DJs spinning salsa, merengue and samba. A snack bar at the front of the venue sells Brazilian food.
Finally, at the very end of the strip is Field & Sea, a small, Hawaiian-style double-decker bar notable for its scandalously cheap drinks, friendly staff, 3,000 yen all-you-can-drink barbecues and spontaneous parties.
Kamakura, an ancient capital of Japan, hosts a mix of extremely good, bad and occasionally ugly beach bars -- the latter often emblazoned with sponsors' logos.
On eastern Zaimokuza beach is Asia ( www.kamakura-asia.com ), a relaxed beach house in its fifth summer, with a himono (dried fish) stall, barbecues and live-music shows in the evening.
Alternatively, immediately on your right coming from town is Yuigahama Beach. The first stop here is Little Thailand -- a complex of about 10 food stalls run by Thai staff with the Solar Bar at its center. Only in its third year but now on the road to becoming a Shonan institution, Little Thailand boasts pumping Thai dance music, deliciously spicy food, cheap liquor and occasional Thai boxing bouts -- all in all, probably the most authentic Thai beach experience this side of Phuket.
Magokoro ( www.magokoroworld.jp ) -- meaning hemp heart -- overlooks Yuigahama Beach and, although not strictly a beach house, has a chilled beachlike atmosphere all year round. Here almost everything is made of hemp, right down to the beer and wine, and even the delicious hemp curry.
This cafe, bar and creative-space hosts live events, music workshops and movie screenings. It also sells hemp accessories, clothes and acoustic instruments.
Finally, just next door is Cocomo, a great oyster restaurant with a second-floor balcony offering an excellent view. House music events are held here sometimes.
Love them or hate them, Enoshima's beaches -- divided into east and west by the bridge linking the mainland to wee Enoshima Island -- are the liveliest of the bunch, pulling in younger and bigger crowds at weekends than other beaches in Shonan. Enoshima is the natural "breeding ground" for the youth of Kanto in summer, attracting the overtanned, skimpily-clad girls and coiffured boys you see in Shibuya.
On the eastern beach, the first place you'll come to is Deep, a well-established bar facing away from the sea that's a hit with darts players and drinkers alike. Due to its popularity, Deep levies a service charge of 300 yen.
On the western beach, behind the massive Enoshima Aquarium, is Gara, the only Shonan beach house offering real Indian food for the hungry surfer or boozer. Lunch sets are particularly good value from 1,000 yen.
Setting a new standard last year for Enoshima was Eau Cafe ( www.eaucafe.com ), whose ambience -- comfy sofas and French menu -- elevates it into a different class. The jazz and bossa nova sounds here -- including live events -- make a pleasant change from the hip hop so common at Enoshima beach bars.
Challenging Eau Cafe is a new arrival, Vegas ( www.fakedelic.co.jp ), as glamorous as its name suggests, with all-black decor, sophisticated lighting and stylish design. It's hard to believe that the organizers only decided to set up this place in June, because a lot of thought seems to have gone into every facet of the venue, from the quality sound system to various images and videos projected on to a screen. Even more surprising, however, is the fact that the Tokyoites behind Vegas managed to coax Laurent Garnier down to Enoshima to DJ here Aug. 3.
Exciting new arrivals like Vegas and Kannon are a sure sign the area has more than recovered from the loss of the legendary Sputnik bar on Tsujido Beach two years ago.
And with Hawaiian, Indian, Jamaican, Thai and Latin American-style venues strewn across the length of Shonan, those with itchy feet should be able to find some solace on the shores of Kanagawa this summer.