Close your eyes and imagine Kyoto. Are you thinking of ancient shrines, cobbled streets, vermillion tori gates, and kimono clad Maiko? Of course this is also how I imagine Kyoto city, but Kyoto prefecture is home to so much more. Let’s escape the crowds and tourist hot spots of Kyoto city, for a beautiful coastline, a cute fishing village, terraced rice paddies, wild monkeys and a hot spring right on the beach. All of this can be found around the Tango Peninsula, in northern Kyoto Peninsula. Starting from Amanohashidate and following coastal route 178, this trip is ideally done over two or three days. I did this trip in June with two friends visiting from Australia. We intended to camp both nights of our trip, but some rain changed our plans and we ended up spending a night in a Ryokan in Miyazu (the closest town to Amanohashidate). AMANOHASHIDATE 天橋立Maybe you’ve already heard of the mouthful that is Amanohashidate. In 1643 Japanese scholar, Hayashi Gahō, canonized it as one of “Three Views of Japan”. Amanohashidate is a thin, 3.3km long sandbar, covered with about 7,000 pine trees. The name translates to ‘bridge to heaven’. The idea is that you go up to the hill on the south side of the sandbar then look at it upside down between your legs. This way it’s supposed to look like a dragon flying into heaven. It might be a stretch to suggest this, but I won’t deny that we didn’t have fun looking at the world upside down for a while. The south side viewing area is called Amanohashidate View Land. You can catch a chairlift to the top for ¥850. After checking out the view from above, I recommend hiring a bicycle and riding across the sandbar. The ride is lovely, and when you reach the other side you can check out Motoise Kono Shrine. It’s a really beautiful structure, and while you’re there you can pick up a lovely seasonal Omamori (lucky amulet). ACCESS: I recommend driving, as it's the easiest way to explore Tango Peninsula. However, public transport is possible for Amanohashidate. From Nijo Station in Kyoto you can 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. For more information check here. INE-CHO伊根町A 40-minute drive north from Amanohashidate, sits Ine-cho, a small and quaint fishing village. Along the curve of the beautiful Ine Bay are the famed 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 is home to the living quarters. A sightseeing ferry runs tours around the bay, which is probably the easiest way to see the Funaya, however private sea taxis are also available. The ferry tour costs ¥680 for adults and takes about 25 minutes, running every 30 minutes from 9:00am to 4:00pm. People are encouraged to feed the seagulls from the ferry, which was honestly very scary. Protection from gulls and hawks can be found in the hull of the ferry, but the best views are from the terrifying rooftop. ACCESS: 40 minutes by car from Amanohashidate. Buses run infrequently. For more information check here.
RICE TERRACES OF NII 新井の棚田When I was researching cool places along the Tango Peninsula, I found these rice paddy terraces which are allegedly in the top 100 rice terraces of Japan. I cannot confirm or deny this claim, but I can confirm that even on a rainy day the views were stunning. It really is in the middle of nowhere along some very narrow and winding roads, so if you are nervous or not used to this kind of driving I wouldn’t recommend it. On our drive up we saw a lot of wild monkeys! It was my first time seeing monkeys in the wild so the hairy drive was worth it for that alone. After taking a bunch of photos we jumped back in the car for the next port of call, lunch at Kosaki Port. ACCESS: 10 minutes by car from Ine-cho. By nearest bus stop I am guessing at least a 30 min walk would be involved.
This lunch spot is right in the fishing port; the tables are outside by the water. All dishes are made from fresh and local ingredients. The only thing on the menu is the daily lunch set (¥2000), and reservations must be made in advance by telephone. If you don’t speak Japanese this is an issue, so try and find 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. I honestly cannot recommend it enough. I called to make a reservation on the same day and it wasn’t a problem. It’s open from 11:00am to 2:00pm (last order 1:30pm) and only open Saturday to Monday and public holidays. I basically had to plan our trip around the availability of this restaurant (for lack of a better word) but I am so glad I did. ACCESS: 20 minutes by car from Nii rice terrace. For bookings call: 0772-33-0266. For more information (Japanese only) check here
KYOGA MISAKI LIGHTHOUSE 経ヶ岬灯台
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. For someone like me, a geography major with a keen interest in geology, it’s really cool to be able to see columnar joint rock formations. For someone like you, probably not a huge nerd, the stunning coastline is sure to impress regardless of whether or not you know the name of the particular rock formation you are looking at. It took us about 15 minutes along a jungley path to reach the lighthouse. Along the way we spotted a Japanese badger!
ACCESS: 13 minutes by car from the best lunch you’ve had in a long time.
KOTOHIKI BEACH CAMPGROUND 琴引浜掛津キャンプ場
Our final destination and accommodation for the night was Kotohiki beach campground. Even if you are not camping I highly recommend you pay it a visit because it is home to something very special: a free public hot spring right on the beach. I’m not sure how many of these exist in Japan and/or the world but it can’t be a lot. The only downside (for me at least) is that because it’s public, we are required to wear swimwear (or face charges of public indecency?). 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. The campsites were dotted around under the pine trees by the beach, ensuring a degree of privacy and serenity. The campground fee is ¥3000 (per tent), which is more than I am usually prepared to spend on a campsite, but considering the beach onsen I was happy to oblige.