Amanohashidate (天橋立) – the bridge to heaven

When we first went to Japan, we decided that we wanted to experience a Japanese beach.  We did Google searches, read our copy of the Rough Guide to Japan, followed recommendations on Japan-Guide.com, and came upon Amanohashidate (天橋立).  A rough translation of the name is Bridge to Heaven, because when you stand at one of the viewing platforms, at either Kasamatsu Park or at View-Land on Mount Monju behind the railway station, and stick your head between your legs (an action called matanozoki, or “peek between your legs”), the pine tree-lined sand spit that crosses the bay looks as though it is stretching up into the sky.

The train from Kyoto took us north directly to Amanohashidate.  We were able to use our JR Passes for most of the journey, but for the last leg the train runs on the track of a private railway, Kitakinkitango.

The Limited Express that we caught from Kyoto was a retro space age looking thing, with a scrolling panel on the front.

The journey north was spectacular.  We travelled through the mountains across the middle of Honshu.  At times the train was travelling on tracks next to a vertiginous drop to a river in a deep valley below.  At other times, we passed rice fields and villages, with people working in the fields.  I was trying my hardest to get some decent photographs as the train zipped through this spectacular countryside.  It was a real introduction to Japan.

 

At Fukuchiyama, the point at which the train crossed from the JR line to the Kitakinkitango line, a guard came through the cars, checking tickets and issuing extension tickets to cover the journey along the private track.  We negotiated the tricky exchange with our poor Japanese and were issued with very pretty tickets printed on card.

When we arrived at Amanohashidate Station, we picked up a map from the tourist information kiosk on the way out, and headed down into town.  We got the impression that we had arrived somewhere very remote.  There were hardly any other people around as we walked along the main street, down from the station.

At the bottom we found a temple complex, Chionji, and some shops selling a mixture of touristy things and very expensive pottery and clothing.  We strolled around the complex for a while, looking at the statues and the ema fans left in the trees by visitors to the temple.

 

We then decided it was time to walk across the Bridge to Heaven, to see what was at the other side.  Before you set foot on the sand spit, you have to cross a bridge across a channel cut into it, to allow boats to access the bay behind.  The bridge is a swing bridge, allowing boats to pass from one side of the spit to the other.  It is covered in warnings about making sure you leave the north side of the spit in plenty of time, because the bridge is closed to pedestrians after a certain time.

As we were reading the signs, the bridge began to swing, and a barge type boat, laden with gravel, appeared from the bay.

 

Once the boat had safely passed, the bridge swung back into position and we were able to cross to the sand spit.

As soon as we crossed the bridge, it felt like we had entered a picture postcard, the scenery was so beautiful.  It’s little wonder that Amanohashidate is one of the Three Scenic Views of Japan.  The sand is almost white, and the sea is a deep, jewel-like blue.  We walked a little way along the path between the pine trees before the lure of the beach became too much for us to resist.

 

We strolled along the beach for a while until the heat of the sun became too much, and then we passed back into the shade of the pine trees.  As we walked along the path, we were passed by a young couple on bicycles.  The woman had a small spaniel in the basket at the front of her bicycle, and the spaniel was charmingly dressed in a sunhat and backpack!

Towards the end of the sand spit were some buildings.  We walked back down onto the beach so that we could eat our bento and look out across the Sea of Japan.  There were some fishermen further up the beach from us, and I think they were quite amused at our Western picnicking ways.  Especially when Mr. H lay down for a snooze!

On the northern side of the spit we found more tourist shops, where I bought a keyfob with an owl made from kimono fabric sitting on a twig.  The owl is the symbol of my home town, so I was pleased to see that it was a significant bird for this beautiful part of the world as well.  (My home town doesn’t have much going for it, so it’s nice to find even the vaguest thing to link it to somewhere beautiful!)

Despite my dislike of boats, we decided to take the ferry back to the southern side of the bay.  I hadn’t revealed to my new husband that I have a fear of capsizing, even in the largest and apparently most stable of ships, so I insisted that we sat inside on the ferry.  I wish I could have been braver, because it was a beautiful day and we could have taken lots of photographs as we crossed the bay, but it wasn’t to be.

Before we headed back to the station, we decided to take the cable car up the mountain at the back of the station to the deliciously cute View Land.  Cable cars are another of my phobias, but this time I had to grit my teeth and allow the tiny, swinging chair to scoop me up and carry me up the mountainside.  It was literally a white knuckle ride for me.  The pain was worth it, though, because the view at the top was amazing.

We both did the obligatory matanozoki (またのぞき) to see if the spit did look as though it were rising up to heaven.

There was time for a quick wander around the amusement park, which was mostly closed as we weren’t there in the summer season.  It was a shame, because I would have liked a ride on the tiny ferris wheel.

All too soon it was time to take another perilous cable car ride back down the mountain so that we could catch our train back to Kyoto.  We were a little early for the train, so we bought our return ticket for the private section of the journey, and then bought ice cream cones from a vending machine, just for the novelty of it.

As the time for the train’s arrival approached, the ticket clerk emerged from his booth and ushered us out onto the platform.  He checked our tickets and pointed us towards precisely the right spot on the platform for us to stand and wait.  This is one of the things I love about train travel in Japan.  It is so precise that you can stand at the prescribed spot safe in the knowledge that, when the train pulls in, you will be right in front of the doors.

It was a long way to go for a day trip, but it was worth the early rise.  Part of the adventure was the train journey, but the best part was being in such a beautiful place.  As the Rough Guide says, it’s a pleasureland of scenic delights.  If you have the time and want to see somewhere that’s a little out of the way, and therefore a little quieter than most of the tourist spots in Japan, Amanohashidate is well worth a visit.

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