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What do you see when you imagine Kyoto? Is it ancient shrines, cobbled streets, vermillion Torii and kimono-clad Maiko? Well, while this might be an apt description of Kyoto City, Kyoto prefecture is home to so much more. Let's escape the crowds of popular tourist hot spots in Kyoto city, and head to an unspoiled destination with stunning coastal scenery, a charming fishing village, and an onsen on the beach. We're heading to the Tango Peninsula, in northern Kyoto prefecture. Starting from Amanohashidate and following coastal route 178, this trip is best taken over two days.
In 1643, Japanese scholar, Hayashi Gahō canonised Amanohashidate as one of the "Three Views of Japan" (日本三景, Nihon Sankei). So, while Amanohashidate is known by almost all Japanese, that doesn't mean it's a popular destination. It remains uncrowded in comparison to other famous spots, due to its remote location.
Amanohashidate is a narrow, tree-clad sandbar. It measures 3.3km and is thickly sheltered by about 7,000 pine trees. The name translates to 'bridge to heaven'. Why is it called that? Great question. Go to the top of the hill on the south side of the sandbar, then look at it upside down from between your legs. Supposedly it looks like a dragon flying into heaven, hence the name. It might be a reach to say the sandbar looks like a dragon, but we won't deny that it isn't fun looking at the world from this unique perspective.
The south side viewing area is called Amanohashidate View Land. The best way to get to the top is by chairlift. Tickets are about ¥850. After admiring the landscape from above, we suggest renting a bicycle and riding across the sandbar. The ride through the pine trees is lovely and flat. On the other side of the sandbar is Motoise Kono Shrine, which is well worth checking out. It's a stunning structure, and while you're there, you can pick up a lovely seasonal Omamori (lucky amulet).
ACCESS: Driving is the easiest way to explore the Tango Peninsula. However, it is possible to reach Amanohashidate using public transport. From Nijo Station in Kyoto, take the Limited Express Hashidate to Amanohashidate Station. It's just under two hours and will set you back ¥4,500 if you're not using a Japan Rail Pass.
Ine-Cho is a small and picturesque fishing village, where residents truly coexist with the sea. Clustered beside the beautiful Ine Bay, you'll find Funaya (舟屋), traditional fishermen's houses. The houses are built in such a way that the boats can be piloted straight into the lowest level of the house, while the second level the living quarters. Some have even been converted into guest accommodation, for those who'd like to sleep above the sea. A sightseeing ferry runs tours around the bay, which is probably the easiest way to see the 230 or so Funaya that are dotted along the coast. The ferry ride costs ¥680 for adults and takes about 25 minutes. It runs every 30 minutes from 9:00am to 4:00pm. Passengers are encouraged to feed the seagulls from the ferry, which in turn attracts hawks. It's honestly a little terrifying. You can seek shelter from gulls and hawks in the hull of the boat, but the best views are from the rooftop. For more information check here: http://www.ine-kankou.jp/english/
ACCESS: 40-minute drive from Amanohashidate or take a local bus from Amanohashidate station. The bus ride takes about an hour and costs ¥400.
This fantastic lunch spot is right in the fishing port; the tables are outside where you can enjoy the sunshine and the salty sea breeze. The dishes are made from fresh and local ingredients, with fish caught the very same day. The daily lunch set (¥2000) is the only thing on the menu. While it changes seasonally, you can expect a generous serving of sashimi, grilled fish, miso soup, tempura, and an assortment of small side dishes. It's serious value for money. Reservations are required and must be made by telephone. If you don't speak Japanese, ask someone to help you because this lunch is 100% worth it. Eating lunch here is not only a meal, but also an experience in itself. We couldn't recommend it more! It's open from 11:00am to 2:00pm (last order 1:30pm) and only open Saturday, Sunday, Monday and national holidays.
For bookings call: 0772-33-0266. For more information (Japanese only) check http://kamanyu-suisan.co.jp/meshi.html
ACCESS: 17 minutes drive from Ine-Cho
The western half of the Tango Peninsula coastline, up to Kyoga Misaki, is part of the San'in Kaigan Geopark. This means it's home to some really unique geological formations. The stunning coast here has formations known as columnar joints. Regardless of whether or not you have a degree in geology, the sheer rocky cliffs will be sure to impress you. The lighthouse here marks the northern-most point of the Kansai region and affords spectacular views of the Sea of Japan. It's a leisurely 15-minute stroll from the car park, through a dense and jungle-like forest. Keep your eye out for wildlife because along the way, we spotted a Japanese badger!
Our final destination on this magical trip is Kotohiki Beach. This beach is home to something extraordinary: a free public onsen right on the beach. Imagine sinking into a warm bath, beer in hand, listening to the sound of the waves, while watching the spectacular sunset. Life doesn't get much better than moments like that. But keep in mind that because it's public, you are required to wear swimwear. The onsen is closed over the cold months and usually opens from March until November. Above the beach is a charming campsite. If you have the equipment, definitely take the opportunity to camp here. Campsites are dotted around under the pine trees, creating a tranquil atmosphere. The campground fee is ¥3000 (per tent).