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East Japan's Kanagawa Pref. set to reopen 20 swimming beaches as COVID cases settle

A seaside hut is seen under construction at Katase Beach in the Kanagawa Prefecture city of Fujisawa on May 25, 2022. (Mainichi/Kenetsu Inaba)

Around 20 swimming beaches are gearing up to open this summer in east Japan's Kanagawa Prefecture, with beaches in the city of Kamakura and the town of Oiso preparing to welcome bathers for the first time in three years after closing amid the coronavirus pandemic. Still, there remain others that have given up on reopening this year.

    According to the Kanagawa Prefectural Government and other sources, 25 swimming beaches were in operation in 2019 before the pandemic.

    This year the Kamakura Municipal Government has decided to open the city's Zaimokuza, Yuigahama and Koshigoe beaches for the first time in three years. In 2018, a total of some 700,000 people visited the three areas. But the opening of all swimming beaches in the prefecture was canceled in 2020 due to the coronavirus crisis. The city had been preparing to reopen them in 2021, but it decided that it would be difficult to obtain understanding from local residents and gave up on the idea.

    But now that coronavirus infections are relatively settled, it decided to reopen the beaches. Close to 40 beach huts, which offer cool drinks, food and other services to beachgoers, are also expected to open -- about the same number as in recent pre-pandemic years. However, if coronavirus infections spread again and there is a request from the prefectural government, they will close.

    A city official commented, "If beach huts become a local cause for concern, then it could affect next year's opening as well. We want to take necessary (coronavirus) countermeasures."

    The Katase Higashihama, Katase Nishihama Kugenuma and Tsujido beaches in the city of Fujisawa will be opened again this year following their opening in 2021. Last year, the beaches welcomed bathers in July, but they had to close again after a state of emergency was declared over the spread of COVID-19. This year, clear standards for closing the beaches have been set together with private operators -- such as the number of infections and the usage rate of hospital beds for patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms.

    Meanwhile the association operating Miura Beach in the city of Miura decided to forgo opening this year. Figures held by the city indicate that the number of visitors dropped from a peak of about 2.35 million in 1994 to between 300,000 and 400,000 in recent years. With more people choosing to visit other beaches closer to urban areas, it was feared that another spread of coronavirus infections resulting in the closure of the beaches could mean they would not be able to recover the cost of setting up beach huts. A city tourism official lamented, "Previously there were roughly 60 beach huts, but now there are just a few. Compared to the days of the beach swimming boom, we're in the doldrums and it's depressing."

    While the town of Oiso has decided to reopen its shoreline to bathers, it decided not to open beach huts this year in light of the cost.

    Still, hopes are high that beaches will soon be bustling with bathers again this summer. Mieko Konishi, chair of the Kanagawa Beach Federation which is made up of beach hut operators, commented, "There are some beach huts that weren't able to operate for two years, and they're keen to go ahead. We want to operate the facilities while taking countermeasures (against the coronavirus) like restaurants do."

    (Japanese original by Masashi Yomogida, Yokohama Bureau, Toshiaki Hashimoto, Yokosuka Local Bureau, and Kenetsu Inaba, Kamakura Local Bureau)

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