Shirahama Beach boasts white sand imported from Australia and a pleasant blue expanse of water perfect for swimming in. While beaches aren't exactly Japan's biggest tourist draw, the trip to Wakayama Prefecture to visit this one is well worth the effort - popular with swimmers, the beach sits in the seaside town of Shirahama, and is also well-known in other seasons for its hot springs.
When doing your travel reasearch, you don't want to get this spot mixed up with the better-known Shirahama Beach - also a white-sand beach - on the Izu Penninsula in Shizuoka Prefecture. (Admittedly, if you're based in the Tokyo area, Izu will be much closer to you!) Although it's a bit out of the way, two hours south of Osaka with few of the Kansai region's hotspots along the route, when you reach this sleepy little town you will realize how perfect it is for a day trip.
Though I called Kansai my home for three years, I didn't visit Shirahama (or anywhere else in Wakayama Prefecture) for a long time. Osaka has a few beaches of its own, and it seemed quite far to go for me. However, I took my honeymooning friends to Shirahama when they were visiting Japan, and we ended up booking into a local ryokan and stayed the night. It turned out to be one of the most relaxing and enjoyable trips I ever took in the Kansai area!
The main section of the beach features its own mixed-bath outdoor hot spring, Shirasuna. Bathing suits are required, and if you came to the beach in summer to cool down, hitting a hot spring probably isn't on your list of plans, but it's not something to pass up! You can go back and forth between the warm open-air bath to relax and the chilly seawater to cool down. Further down the beach, past the sand and swimming areas, you can find Saki-no-Yu, an ancient open-air hot spring that opens out directly onto the ocean. Shirahama is famous for being the site of one of the three oldest hot springs in Japan, so for onsen buffs, Saki-no-Yu's 1350-year-old history is more than enough reason to check it out.
Even with the other things to do in town (I'll leave those for another day!), we spent most of the two days here, alternating between ocean and hot springs, with fireworks over the water at night - the fireworks run nightly through July and August. Even though it was Obon week and the entire country was on holiday, Shirahama had a much more relaxed feeling to it than other vacation spots in the Kansai area. Calm, peaceful, and beautiful - the ideal spot to get away from the big city. What a gem Wakayama has hidden away here!