How Kashima City Turned its Muddy Beach into a Popular Destination

Published April 7th, 2023

Located on the Western coast of Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost main island, is the small city of Kashima. It is located within Saga prefecture, 60 miles from the capital city Saga, along the coast of the Ariake Sea. Its most famous landmark is Yūtoku Inari Shrine, one of Japan’s most famous Inari shrines. But, this isn’t all Kashima has to offer.

As stated, Kashima is located along the coast of the Ariake Sea. When the sea reaches low tide, mudflats more than a third of a mile wide run along the coast. The muddy beach 泥海 (dorōmi) was far from a popular tourist attraction.

Then, in 1984, it was announced that there were no plans to build a highway to Kashima or install a shinkansen stop in the city.

The mayor, Masahiko Kuwahara, knew he needed to do something to put their city on the map. He turned to the city’s muddy beach. By 1985, the Gatalympics were being held.

The first annual Gatalympics was held on May 3rd, 1985. It is now an annual festival that occurs every May. The event features many sporting events, including sumo wrestling and racing. All events take place on the mudflats of Kashima’s muddy beach.

The Gatalympics got their title from the mudflats’ official name, Kashima Higata (鹿島干潟). They then paired this with their inspiration, the Olympics. And the Gatalympics were born!

Not too bad by Colin Thompson via flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The event has continued to gain popularity in the decades since it first began. It is now well known throughout the prefecture. Hundreds of athletes come to Kashima to take part in the games. Hundreds more onlookers come to watch and play in the mud.

There are classic events such as sumo wrestling and tug-o-war, which both take place in the mud. There is also a 25 meter dash where contestants must run through the waist-high mud. Whoever reaches the flag first wins. There are bike races too. Contestants must cycle along a thin wooden track or lose balance and fall in the mud. There is also surf-board racing. Contestants lie down on boards and paddle as fast as they can to the finish. There are even events for kids. These include finding items hidden in the mud and obstacle courses!

The entire goal of the Gatalympics is to get covered in mud. By the end of the event, most visitors are covered head to toe in mud. People come to enjoy this unique and offbeat event from all over. This includes locals, people from all over Japan, and even visitors from other countries!

The Gatalympics not only helped to put the small city of Kashima on the map, it also helped bring awareness to the area. Since people were now using the mudflats, more care was taken to keep the beach clean. In the time before the Gatalympics, the mudflats and Kashima beach were neglected. Now, they are a landmark of the city, and a symbol of how the city has thrived.

SSL_3179 by skyeslee via flickr | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This one-of-a-kind event began as a way to bring business to a small city. And it certainly has! It has also helped clean up the city’s beach, boost the local economy, and bring people together to let loose and have fun!