Sunday, October 30, 2016

day-trippin' around Kyotango

Upon leaving Kumihama and Atsushi-san's family (on our way to Kyoto's famous fall festival, the gorgeous Jidai Matsuri, aka Festival of the Ages) and before heading South to Fukuoka to explore Kyushu island), we decided to take an extra day on our -tight- schedule to go on a trip around the whole Kyotango peninsula. It was supposedly a lovely area and a fun thing to do, we wanted to see the wilderness of the coastline and were lured by some famous sightseeings and local (rocky!) curiosities...
about to get on one of Japan's many groovy, vintage or retro-looking, local trains!
Wallis also wanted Futuna to see Amanohashidate, the bridge in the sky, or the dragon in the sea: a three-kilometer long, narrow strip of sand covered in pine trees jumping across the Miyazu bay. The dragon's bridge sitting on the dock of the sky is allegedly one of Japan's three (or was it five?) most iconic views, many many many people embark on a round-trip from Kyoto just to see (sorry!) take a picture (oops!) make a selfie with it in the background... Here is, then, a practical and factual - or so do we hope - report with all the information you need and a bit of inspiration to take this nice 1- or 2-day excursion as we did, or differently! We especially recommend it for the Kumihama Helpxers and AirBnb guests who'd like to see around without a car. There are several direct train options to get to Amanohashidate and the famous Nariai-ji temple, but provided you have the time (and don't mind spending hours contemplating beautiful landscapes with nothing more to do than just exactly this), the full trip around Kyotango is not only worth it: it also has material for your eyes to be extended to a 2- or even 3-day trip, sleeping anywhere along the way or reaching Fukuchiyama. Okay, enough introduction, let's get to the point and start the adventure:

1. from Kumihama or Shotenkyo stations:
 (maybe Atsushi-san will be able to drop you there, or you can (hitch-)hike there or ride and lock the bicycles at the station until you come back - getting on the train and buses with your bikes might be possible and fun, but I wouldn't try that before checking AND making sure it's allowed. Anyway, take an early Kyotango local train bound to Amino and change there for a local bus to Tate Iwa (= “standing rock”). Walk straight off the station and you'll find a bus stop immediately on your left. The waiting time is about 20 minutes and there are several buses, so before jumping on one, check with the driver it’s actually bound to Tate Iwa. The trip to Tate Iwa is quiet and you'll spend most of your time looking at the coast throughout the window.

Tate Iwa, aka the standing rock: panoramically yours ; with a happy, hippie and grassy foreground ; from a distance ; with the desert island mode on.
2. Tate Iwa standing rock: as the driver should remember your question, you're pretty sure not to miss the stop, but it's a tiny village by the sea and you wouldn't imagine that's where you're headed! The interest is on the beach, East of the village. A beautiful and picturesque basaltic rock formation, surrounded by more cliffs and raw beaches. On each side of the little bridge, you'll find some (open) bathrooms and a campsite just minutes from the rock, which could work great for a night as long as you have minimum camping gear. There's mosquitoes and not much more, but the place is nice and clean enough. Well, "clean" must depend on the weather and currents, because that day, the beach wore a thin layer of plastic and fishing trash marking the highest tide. Just at the bus stop is a restaurant (could be a hotel too?) but it was closed the day we were there. Buses pass every hour-and-a-half or so, so you'd better check it upon arrival and make sure not to miss the one you intend to hop on!

the super-busy Kyotango local bus: pick a seat and enjoy the ride ; the issue is NOT with monkeys but with wasps! ; our bus at its un-bus-stop. 

3. Kyogamisaki lighthouse: from Tate Iwa, it's difficult to get lost as you'll follow the same bus line until the terminus, that is: the Kyogamisaki lighthouse itself! Facing uphill from the bus stop, take the only secondary road (on the left) at the corner of a dirt car park. You'll walk about 1,4 km (less than a mile) up and down along this road to the viewpoint and lighthouse. You may be passed by some cars and coaches, be careful and make yourself seen because the road is narrow and some curves sharp. Except for the trails going to the lighthouse and to a higher viewpoint, there is honestly not much to do there. Again: it'll satisfy the contemplative ones.

the ragged coast and open sea from the lighthouse viewpoint. end of the road!
This said, the coast is beautiful and wild, the air fresh and the next bus is one-and-a-half to two hours later. Check it upon arrival and again, don't miss it. You'll have a chance to hitch-hike, but it could make the trip much longer... If you've taken food with you, it's time for a snack. Else, it's time to pity yourselves. We hid our backpacks in the bushes by the bus stop so we wouldn't have to carry them around, but if you take them with you, a bivouac night at the viewpoint or close to the lighthouse could be nice and nobody should ever bother you... Your bus will be waiting on the other side of the road almost one hour before the schedule, but they won't let you on anyway, as you're supposed to get on at the actual bus stop, on your side of the road and at the exact time. As a general rule, don't try and get off the established procedures in Japan, neither because you think your point is logical or fair, nor because you think it's just easier your way! Westerners sometimes have a (probably well-earned) reputation of compulsive trespassers and one of the most famous kotowazas (諺) says deru kugi wa utareru, "the nail that sticks out is hammered down". Which can be understood not only as "keep your head low or society will take care of it for you", but also as "any initiative will be pointed at (and public shaming will do the rest)".

4. To Amanohashidate: the bus will take you all around the Kyotango coastline, with its ragged cliffs and remote fishermen villages. Again, you won't get lost as it is the terminus. You may want to stop in Ine, famous for its fishermen funaya houses. Funaya inn is your option to spend a night there, google it! The ride is pleasant and if you do that on the same day, you get there early in the afternoon (around 3 pm), with still plenty if time to enjoy Amanohashidate.

fishermen village ; funaya houses ; water and more water ; not-so-traditional condo ; island and birds ; one of the many spoilers along the way!

5. Before Amanohashidate: you can cross the bay on the iconic narrow strip of sand covered with pines, but since you arrive from the North, just ask the bus driver to drop you at the cable-car stop. In Japanese English, it sounds something like caiburu caru. Don't worry about making a whole sentence: caiburu caru and a bright smile should work ; kurasai? at the end of anything makes a decent "this thing I just mentioned, please?" and arigato gosaimasu is a "thank you very much" with quite a broad spectrum. The bus will leave you at the last stop before Amanohashidate, on the opposite side of the Miyazu bay. At the foot of the cable-car, 50 meters from where the tourists catch the ferries, there’s a cheap supermarket for your lunch or snack! You can take the steep hike to the Nariai-ji temple (we didn't even try with our full backpacks and the heat, even though the view from there is stunning and this Kan'non temple is said to be beautiful), or you can simply walk across the bay on the most heavenly, perfect and balanced sandy bridge ever...

cruising (in slomo) along the piny crest of the sandy dragon across the golden bay...
The 2.4 km of absolutely flat trail shouldn't take you more than one hour including your picture and beach stops. Of course, you may want to dip in the sea at any point: apparently it's admissible/tolerated/allowed (tick the right box). Finally, there’s a cable car/funicular on each side to go see the views from above and look backwards from between your legs to actually see the bridge in the sky... Several boat tours on the bay, including speed boats, will fulfill the needs of the horsepowaholics.

6. Once you reach the other side (Amanohashidate): there are a couple of temples, shops and bars on the way to the train station just minutes away from the bridge. Everything looked pretty touristy and expensive, so we didn't spend a lot of time "in town", but took a nice nap by the temple.

7. From Amanohashidate train station: you can take a direct train either back to Amino, then to Shotenkyo and Kumihama, or to Fukuchiyama and Kyoto (what we did, but that story may not be suitable for all audiences...). And of course, if you’re lazy or don't have time to take the whole local bus tour around the peninsula (which is really great if you enjoy day dreaming while looking throughout the window, but we can think of friends of ours who'd find that boring to death!), well you can always take a round trip with the direct train: Kumihama/Shotenkyo to Amanohashidate and back. Pack a lunch or buy your cheap bento at the supermarket just opposite the caiburu caru parking lot and you’re ready to go! By the way, with the food being rather expensive in Japan, this is a #GreatTraveler'sTip: most supermarkets sell fresh sushi, sashimi, salads and bentos everyday, whose shelf-life is of a few hours. It means they start to discount some progressively as the day passes. After 6pm, you're sure to find yummy raw fish, grilled meat, vegetables, rice currys, udons and such with a 20 or 30 % off. Unlike what we do "at home", in Japan we usually had light breakfast and lunch and made sure to reach dinner hungry, celebrating it with solemn gratefulness every evening!

clouds over Miyazu bay ; bird theory ; bird practice ; panoramashidate ; holy hand fans ; pine in b&w ; late ride on a Wong Kar Train.

8. Talking in silver (aka the costs): Kumihama to Amino: 290 yens ; Amino to Tate Iwa: 200 yens ; Tate Iwa to Kyogamisaki: 200 yens ; Kyogamisaki to Amanohashidate: 200 yens (on local train and buses). Amanohashidate-Shotenkyo direct trains: between 850 and 1100 yens (regular vs. express).
Total = 1800-2000 yens per person approximately for the round trip. Our food and water for the excursion were as cheap as another 1500 yens for the two of us, dodging the "local" restaurants for tourists.

And as a special bonus only for the brave, another #GreatTraveler'sTip: check the amazing website for all your Japanese train timetables, schedules, platform changes and fares! It's unbelievable how complex the Japanese train network is and how hyperdia makes it easy (obviously, the site is absolutely free and we're not endorsed at all, not by them and to the date, not by anyone else than ourselves!). Just type in your departure and arrival stations and it'll suggest ALL the possible options, from super express deluxe shinkansens to the crappiest, slowest, most local countryside trains. There's a series of boxes you can tick/untick, allowing you to swap the expensive options (including the limited express that has a special fare) and pick among the super slow super long super authentic super cheap ones... Whatever your budget is, if there's a train for you, it's there!

Voilà, if you go there, let us know what you thought and how you liked it.
And if you happen to be staying at Atsushi-san's, say hello and send kisses from us to the whole family!

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