If you ask American fashion designer Cynthia Rowley about one of her greatest personal passions, she won’t hesitate to tell you: surfing. And while she tends to hone her skills close to home on the Long Island beaches of Montauk in New York, she has also brought her love for the sport to more farflung shores — in Japan.

It’s a favorite travel destination for both business reasons (she has 4 retail stores there, along with a presence in some major Japanese department stores and boutiques) and pleasure. “I love the country, I love the culture and I love the freedom in the way that people express themselves through fashion,” she explains.

A visit to the coastal town Kamakura several years ago was Rowley’s first encounter with Japanese surf culture, and it was unforgettable. “When I went there I couldn’t believe the amazing mix of Japanese and California surf culture,” she says. “You are surfing next to temples and shrines. And when you look up you see the snow-capped peak of Mount Fuji.” Here, she describes some of the places she loved most in Kamakura, an easy one-hour train ride from Tokyo.

The beach: “Yuigahama is the main beach and it’s very easy to rent boards and wetsuits there. My husband and I liked Rave Surf and Sports – it reminded me of the surf shops in Malibu, with people just hanging out, talking about waves and looking at boards. There were real Cali vibes! There are also lots of cute places to eat, serving everything from sushi to the California-style burgers at the Seedless Bar. The people you see on the beach are super stylish and there’s a definite hipster vibe, with lots of couples surfing together.  We loved to check out everyone’s gear! I design wetsuits in my own fashion collections and I get so much inspiration from seeing them in Japan because it’s where you find the best, most beautiful custom-made wetsuits. On the beach, people rinse them off carefully after they are done surfing, and even bring plastic coat hangers to the beach so that they can hang them up. We even noticed people toting their own portable shower bags.”

A Cynthia Rowley-designed wetsuit

Historical sites: “Kamakura was the former capital of feudal Japan, and the shrines and temples are spectacular. We loved checking out Daibutsu, the Great Buddha, which was cast in the 13th century. You can walk inside the body of the Buddha which was really fun.”

The hotel: “We stayed at a simple ryokan called Kinokuniya. The contrast of going from a high energy surf vibe to retreating to a peaceful, meditative place to stay with tatami mats was a lot of fun. When we were there we had a traditional kaiseki meal. We rented bikes and easily rode between the ryokan and the beach. You can also find more western style hotels like the Kamakura Prince Hotel along the beach.”

Rowley on a bicycle in Kamakura

Good to know: “You have to hide your tattoos on the beach, as they are considered to be very disrespectful in Japan. My husband covered his with Band-Aids, which does the trick nicely!”