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Amanohashidate & Ine

A view of Ama no hashidate from Amanohashidate View Land in Japan

These days, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who hasn't heard about Kyoto yet. That said, there's so much more to the prefecture than just what most people envision when they think of the ancient capital. Today we'll be taking a look at a pair of allures that are known as Amanohashidate and Ine. Located along the coast of the Sea of Japan, this set of secluded locations is about as far removed from the solemn temples and shrines that typically characterize Kyoto as you can get.

If Amanohashidate and the fishing village of Ine have yet to pop up on your radars, know that you're likely not alone. The duo are two of the hallmarks of an area that is regularly referred to as "Kyoto by the Sea." Along with a handful of other "Kyoto by the XYZs," this section of the prefecture rarely welcomes western visitors to Japan. Thankfully though, the rise of social media has started to chip away at this lack of awareness overseas. Alas, given how many people flock to Kyoto every year, there's still a lot of room for improvement.

While it is true that Amanohashidate and Ine are indeed getting a bit more recognition these days than they used to, that doesn't mean that they are easy to get to. Despite being located within the bounds of Kyoto Prefecture, it takes about as long to get to Amanohashidate  from Kyoto Station as does the trek from Tokyo to Japan's former capital. Seeing as that journey is made on the bullet train, this should give you some sense of just how far the pair of attractions is from the more urban areas. 

Despite requiring a multi-day excursion, a trip to Amanohashidate and Ine hits the perfect sweet spot between a sightseeing area chock full of attractions and an obscure hidden gem. The twin locales have seen just enough foreign visitors that you can get around with little to no Japanese language ability while also maintaining their authenticity. In a stark contrast to the inner city areas of Kyoto, Amanohashidate and Ine still retain their original charm and have yet to be desecrated by the evils of overtourism.

If you're looking to experience a different side of Kyoto, I cannot more highly laud these two locations. With that said, let's dive on into the logistics...

How to Get There

A train in Japan leaves Kyoto for Miyazu and Ama no Hashidate

As just noted, "Kyoto by the Sea" is located quite a ways away from any major bullet train stops. To get there, you're going to need to take one of the Hashidate limited express trains pictured above. There's a number of places where you can board one of these (including in Osaka) but assuming you are coming from Kyoto Station, know that the entire journey will clock in at a little over two hours. As always, refer to Jorudan or a similar service for train schedules. Fellow workaholics, note that the seats in the first and final rows have power outlets.

The Hashidate limited express trains will take you as far as Amanohashidate Station. From there, you'll be on your own when it comes to transportation. By far, the most popular way to get around the area is via rental bicycles. These can be procured from a variety of vendors for a mere 500 yen and will allow you far more freedom of movement that you would have otherwise. Simply put, you'd be a fool not to take advantage of having your own set of wheels (and yes, a rental car is also an option).

While Amanohashidate alone is doable as an aggressive day trip, Ine will require you spend at least one night in the area. Luckily, there are a number of hotels and ryokans for you to stay overnight at. Just know that there's very little open after 5 PM in the small town of Amanohashidate. As a result, you should either first eat dinner in the city (or get one of Japan's ekiben to go) then take one of the last Hashidate limited express trains up. Alternatively, you could also plan to lodge at a facility that offers meals as part of your stay.

If you're curious, the hotel that I ended up staying at was a modest facility called Auberge Amanohashidate. It is only a 2-minute walk from Amanohashidate Station. While nothing to write home about, it’s a convenient bed and staying here will give you access to the hot spring baths at the neighboring ryokan. Seeing as a stay there would be many times more expensive, this facility was a real steal.

Amanohashidate 

A woman looks at Ama no Hashidate through her legs during a visit to Amanohashidate View Land

Now, seeing as we are a few hundred words in already, this might be a little late but allow me to pause for a second and explain exactly what Amanohashidate actually is. Thus far, I've been using the moniker to describe the region but the word also refers to the area's iconic, pine-covered sandbar. This 3.3 km long land bridge juts out across Miyazu Bay and is considered to be one of the country's top three scenic views along with Matsushima and Miyajima. Heck, the name literally is an homage to a bridge between heaven and earth.

If one were to walk from Amanohashidate Station on the southern end of the sand bar to the other side of the bay, it would take around 45 minutes. Luckily, you can get a rental bicycle near Amanohashidate Station. These will get you across the Amanohashidate sandbar much quicker but just don't forget to stop en route and admire the nearly 8,000 pine trees that dot the white sand beaches. Truth be told, I spent a solid hour walking with my feet in the waters of Miyazu Bay just enjoying the scenic views.

As amazing as the Amanohashidate sandbar and its white sand beaches are, the best view of the land bridge is from up high in the mountains. Thankfully, access to altitude is quite easy. On both the northern and southern end of the Amanohashidate sandbar, you'll find a cable car and a chairlift. You can ride these high up into the hill on either side of the land bridge. Of the two locations, the one at the southern end is the better choice and you'll find it back near Amanohashidate Station.

On the northern end, the cable car or chairlift will take you up to Kasamatsu Park but I suggest you skip this. Instead, you should opt for the southern side of the sandbar which is home to Amanohashidate View Land. Here, you'll find a small theme park that features a collection of amusements including a Ferris wheel, go-karts, etc. There's even an archery range too should that be your shtick. Just be mindful of the hours as everything up here shuts down surprisingly early.

Whether from Kasamatsu Park or Amanohashidate View Land, the best way to view the Amanohashidate sandbar is oddly enough through your legs. Known as matanozoki in Japanese, this strange way of taking in one of Japan's best views has been a thing for centuries. Allegedly, the sandbar when seen this way takes on the appearance of a dragon flying in the heavens. Whether it resembles a bridge between heaven and earth or a reptile high up in the sky, this impressive natural vista lives up to its famous reputation. 

The site of the Chionji temple complex is just a minute walk from the hotel I stayed at

In addition to the famous sand bar with its lush green pine trees, the following are a few other nearby attractions that I suggest you check out...

  • Chion-ji
    Found on the southern end of the Amanohashidate sandbar, the Chion-ji temple complex is dedicated to the Buddhist god of wisdom and intellect. Many of the present-day structures are a few hundred years old but the temple has roots that date back over a millenia. Should you visit, be sure to look up and to your right when facing the offertory. There, you'll find a surprisingly detailed depiction of Japanese hell.

  • Motoise Kono Shrine
    Located on the northern side of the sandbar, most people take their rental bicycles as far as this shrine on their trip across Amanohashidate. Historically, Motoise Kono Shrine was the most important sanctuary in northern Kyoto's Tango region. It once honored the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami before she was enshrined at Ise Jingu. As a result, this spot bears the suffix of Motoise which literally means "The Origin of Ise" in Japanese.

  • Nariai-ji
    This is another temple in the area. Unlike Chion-ji, Nariai-ji is found extremely deep in the mountains on the other side of the bay. To get there, you'll want to begin by taking the chairlift or cable car up to Kasamatsu Park. From there, you'll need to then ride a bus over to Nariai-ji. A roundtrip ticket will set you back a little over 1,000 yen but I instead suggest that you skip this site and instead explore more of Amanohashidate.

In addition to the above allures, you can also enjoy the Amanohashidate sandbar from out on Miyazu Bay as well. To do this, you'll want to charter a sightseeing boat. These can be found near the rotating bridge that is a few minutes walk from the Chion-ji temple complex. Unfortunately, I am not sure about pricing as I didn't partake in one of these aquatic tours myself but you'll likely also need some basic Japanese to understand the instructions of the boat crew. 

The Village of Ine

A view of one a funaya hotel in the fishing village of Ine in the Tango region of Kyoto

Continuing on with this exposé on "Kyoto by the Sea," let's now take a look at the oceanside hamlet of Ine. Truth be told, this location has been on my bucket list since I first started documenting the hidden gems of Japan. If you're going to go as far as visiting Amanohashidate, you'd be foolish not to also check out Ine. It is the perfect example of what I am referring to when I implore people to explore a different side of Japan.

Getting to Ine from Amanohashidate is a bit of a hassle. Basically, you'll need to ride a bus all the way up to the scenic fishing village. You can catch one of these at Amanohashidate Station or at the base of Kasamatsu Park but note that departures are very infrequent so mind your timing. Though there are a few inns and hotels in this part of Kyoto Prefecture, you're likely to have better luck booking something back by the pine-covered sandbar.

In my case, I hopped on the 7:30 AM bus from Amanohashidate Station. This got me to Ine in under an hour and cost me only 400 yen. Now, there are a number of bus stops that you can get off but most people disembark at the central Ine Bus Stop. From here, all of the action is but a few minutes walk away. Alternatively, if you want to take a boat cruise, you should instead hop off at the Inewan Meguri Hide stop.

The reason that one visits Ine is to see the village's 230 funaya. Literally meaning "boat house" in Japanese, funaya are two story domiciles that have an opening on the first floor that can store seafaring vessels. The vast majority of these are actually homes in which the working fishermen of Ine live. That said, I did manage to find one structure that had been converted into a funaya museum for those wanting tours of the interior.

One of the things that really stood out to me was how well suited Ine's location was to being a fishing village. The geography of the hamlet's port makes it difficult for large waves to come into the inlet. This phenomenon is the result of the opening facing south into the bay. Near the mouth of the cove, Ine also has a small isle by the name of Aoshima that divides the channel into two. These natural bulwarks have helped to protect Ine from the elements for centuries.

While Ine is indeed one of the most picturesque locations that I've had the privilege of visiting over the years, there isn't actually all too much to do. Though recently they've added a chic bar and cafe, this isn't the type of spot that has a number of famous sightseeing spots to see. Much of the infrastructure is related to the daily lives of the locals. As such, Ine's real charm is simply its vibe. It's simply something that you cannot find anywhere else in Japan.

One locale that I do suggest you visit while out in Ine is the Funaya-no-Sato Park. You'll find this on a small bluff just north of the central bus stop. Here, you can enjoy a lovely view of the inlet below. Moreover, you can also arrange for one of the funaya-dwelling denizens to take you out on the sea in their boat. Just inquire at the tourism office at Funaya-no-Sato Park for more info.

Other Nearby Attractions

A view of the Miyazu region's Mt. Oe during July feels like heaven

In total, you're going to want to budget about a day and a half for Amanohashidate and Ine. That said, before you hop on the next Hashidate, there are a few more places that you ought to consider checking out in this part of Japan. Below, I've included two locales that I believe will have some niche appeal to readers of this blog.

  • Mt. Oe & Shuten Doji
    If you're a fan of Japanese mythology and yokai, you've likely heard of the name Shuten Doji, the "Drunken Demon," before. Often hailed as one of the top three malevolent spirits, this oni is said to have once terrorized Kyoto from his demonic palace atop Mt. Oe. Seeing as this peak is located just a stone's throw away from Amanohashidate, it's easy to visit in conjunction with the sandbar. Be sure not to miss the Japan Oni Cultural Museum while on Mt. Oe!

  • The City of Maizuru
    Located near Amanohashidate to the east of the sand bar is Maizuru. Though inhabited since prehistoric times, Maizuru was never really an area of importance until World War II. During those years, it was a strategically important area for the imperial navy. Like with Kure in Hiroshima, Maizuru was critical for basing, constructing and repairing Japan's warships. Today, perhaps Maizuru's biggest draw is its historic collection of red brick buildings.

Until next time travelers...

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