If you told me that one day I would stand, feet spread apart, on a high hill in Japan, and put my head between my legs to look backwards seeking a dragon, I might have wondered what weed you were smoking!
Not a good look for the camera – especially as I feared losing my balance and toppling down off a viewing platform in a quick plunge to the sea.
Below me on that hill was what is recognised as one of the three best views in Japan, looking over a small township alongside Miyazu Bay and part of the beautiful Tango-Amanohashidate-Oeyama Quasi National Park.
When we arrived on a day trip from Kyoto, it was cloudy and the view was not at its best. But within an hour, the clouds cleared, blue skies appeared and the sun shone. Wow – magnificent!
The name ‘‘Amanohashidate’ is a little confusing. The small railway station you’ll arrive at is Amanohashidate station. The town, in fact, is Miyazu, and Amanohashidate refers to the 3.6 kilometre spit across the bay from Miyazu – roughly meaning bridge in heaven. Most of the rail journey is covered by the JR Pass, but there is a little extra to pay because a small part of the line is owned by another company. I worried that this might be confusing for us, but it all turned out to be a simple process.
From here on, I’ll call the place ‘Amanohashidate’ as that seems to be the popular tourist name for the area, also known as “KYOTO BY THE SEA’ . It is a designated Japanese ‘tangible cultural asset’, and is part of Kyoto prefecture – although a two hour very picturesque train journey (4 return) from the city.
This area has been well known to Japanese for centuries. But it largely flies under the radar of western tourists. You will be hard pressed to find mention of it in the main tourist brochures for foreigners visiting Japan.
I was about to embark on my fourth trip to Japan when I accidentally discovered Amanohashidate by a mere flick of TV remote, switching on NHK TV World, Japanese TV that we watch in English at home in Australia. I hadn’t checked the schedule, so I didn’t know what was being screened – fortuitously it was a programme about Amanohashidate. It looked a great seaside destination on Japan’s Tango peninsula, and I immediately began thinking how I could squeeze it into my already set holiday itinerary.
The NHK programme said Amanohashidate could be accessed on a day return trip by rail from Kyoto. Luckily, I had already booked over a week’s accommodation in Kyoto. So, as I packed my bags for Japan, I did some further research and hastily added Amanohashidate as a day return adventure – a bit of a mystery tour as I knew so little about the place.
J.R. Tolkien in The Return of the King said “Do not spoil the wonder with haste.”
Haste in planning our visit did not spoil Amanohashidate for MJ and myself – it is a beautiful, peaceful place – as we Aussies say ‘how’s the serenity’. Pretty darn good! It probably gets very busy and crowded in summer, but on our November visit, there weren’t many visitors, and we saw no other westerners. We were blessed with great autumn weather, and if haste prompted any regret, it is that I could have done with many more days there to explore the region and its other little towns.
Amanohashidate is steeped in history. Artists, poets and novelists have found inspiration there for centuries.
The spit across the bay features about 7000 pine trees, with an easy path for cycling or walking. There are plenty of bicycles available for rent at fairly cheap prices if cycling is your thing. You can also cross by ferry or by rental boats.
As for that high hill and the dragon – it’s called View Land, you access it a few hundred metres from the railway station by a chair lift or monorail.
Amanohashidate View Land is a small amusement park mainly aimed at small children, with a few fun things for adults too. This is not one of those whizz bang Japanese amusement parks. It’s more the sort of easy going place you might have experienced in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s – I thought it was cute, and wished I had my tiny grandson with me. There also was a cafe there with friendly staff. We may have been the first foreigners they’d seen in a while since post Covid shutdowns. I recommend their parfaits – an unusual ingredient for me was cornflakes! But – what can I say – simple, but good.
At View Land, you will see several platforms where you stand and perform the required ‘look back through your legs’ tradition to observe the sand bar – and supposedly you will see the shape of the dragon. I can’t say it was that clear to me, and afterwards I thought I could have just taken a photo and turned it upside down to seek the dragon! But it was a bit of fun, and definitely something to remember! I imagine, long before View Land, samurai families hiked up the hill to ‘seek the dragon’!
After coming back down from the hill, we ambled into the main street of the tiny town. Within minutes you can be by the water, but there’s some interesting little shops to check out en route. This is a fishing region, with plenty of fresh fish shops and cafes in the Main Street. If you like your seafood, you will love Amanohashidate.
We opted for a casual cafe on the waterfront for lunch – it was a little unusual. A selection of old armchairs – some with blankets draped across their arms – looked out to the water, an assortment of tables, a piano by a back wall, and an eclectic jumble of items, including travel books in English and coat hangers, strewn about. MJ had a locally crafted beer with his meal – probably the only beer he didn’t enjoy in Japan. While it tasted fine, it had a strange aroma which we both tried and failed to identify. I had better luck with a locally produced white wine. Very nice.
Afterwards, we crossed a beautiful little bridge onto the spit. The bridge revolves to open the way for passing boats. As my regular readers know, my left knee became very troublesome on our November trip, and by the time we reached Amanohashidate, it was reducing my walk to a painful hobble. So no cycling or walking across the spit for us. Instead, we checked out the white sand beach and enjoyed the view.
We also checked out the town’s beautiful Chionji Buddhist temple, its large entrance gate, and a two storey pagoda, built in the 1500’s. Again, only a few minutes walk from the railway station.You can buy special fortunes, shaped like folding fans, which many people leave hanging from pine trees in the temple grounds. When we were there, on a path leading to the temple, there were a few stalls set up selling local mushrooms and chestnuts.
At the end of our day in Amanohashidate, we found a wonderful little coffee shop with the great cakes and coffee. Covid was still raging, so each table had one of those perspex dividers!
Amanohashidate is a place still left largely undone for us. We plan to return later this year to walk across the spit, check out the town area on the other side, and experience the many other attractions in the area. We will definitely explore more of the Tango Peninsula, including the historic and very pretty fishing village of Ine where you can overnight in a boat house, transformed to accommodation.
I also want to return because this area apparently holds the secrets to longevity, with one of the highest concentrations of centenarians in the world. I have somehow managed to make it to my ‘70’s. So I could do with a few tips about how to keep travelling well until I make it to 100!
The troublesome knee, by the way, has been surgically replaced, and once I have fully recovered, I’ll be good to go again!
A small tourist bureau is within the railway building, along with public loos!
What a delightful way of thinking about the journey: “Do not spoil the wonder with haste”! Words to live by, and I’m glad they’ve taken you off the “tourist beaten track.” Certainly leads to unique experiences like search for dragons? 🙃 I was surprised by the parfaits: I though dairy was less common in traditional Japan? (Though cornflakes would be, too…)
Dairy is big…Icecream everywhere, parfaits very popular and usually much more elaborate than these .. I love coffee jelly ones .. I usually buy yoghurts and milk at the convenience stores ..cakes with cream etc. I looked up on the internet to see how long milk has been used in Japan, and it seems it’s a very long time indeed. The Japan Milk Association published this; https://www.j-milk.jp/report/study/h4ogb400000011y2-att/h4ogb40000003f7e.pdf