Kuromon Ichiba Market (黑門市場）
We are visiting Amanohashidate today. When I was planning this Kansai trip, I came across a video that introduces Amanohashidate. Other than the title of 1 of Japan’s top 3 scenic spots, what draws me to make a trip to Amanohashidate is the fact that there are very few foreign visitors coming to this place. As we were on our way to the train station where we begin our 3-hour journey to Amanohashidate, we walked through Kuromon Ichiba Market. Commonly known as the Black Market, Kuromon Ichiba Market sells mainly local produces sourced from all over Japan. Since we are passing through it, my friend and I decided to check what’s on offer, after all, I have heard so much as I was planning our trip to Kansai. The stalls in Kuromon Ichiba Market sells mainly fresh produce such as vegetables, fruits and seafood. The price is a lot cheaper than what we have seen so far in Kansai. Some of the stalls selling seafood even have a dining area, where one can savour the fresh seafood from as far north as Hokkaido, prepared ala-minute and served to patrons. We window-shopped a little, before heading to the train station to catch our train to Amanohashidate.
Kyoto By the Sea – Amanohashidate (天橋立）
Amanohashidate is some 3-hour train ride from Osaka and is located in northern part of Kyoto Prefecture. After changing 3 trains, we finally arrived at Amanohashidate. There are some shops selling souvenirs opposite Amanohashidate JR station. We briefly went inside some of these shops and decided to come back later if time permits. There are 2 viewpoints in Amanohashidate that will allow us to view the famed sandbar that propelled this quaint little town into top 3 scenic views in Japan. One of these viewpoints is located about 7 mins walk from Amanohashidate JR station. In Amanohashidate Viewland (天橋立ビューランド) lies a small theme park. However, we did not go to this viewpoint as I wanted to visit the original viewpoint at Kasamatsu Park (傘松公園) instead.
Chionji Temple (智恩寺）
Chionji Temple is our first stop in Amanohashidate, located some 3 mins walk from the JR Station. Chionji is one of the 3 temples in the whole of Japan that is dedicated to Bodhisattva Monju, who grants wisdom to those to come and pay respects at this temple. As we did not enter the temple grounds via the main gate, the first thing that caught my eyes is the 2-storey wooden Tahoto Pagoda (多宝塔). The pagoda is built in the 1500s and is the oldest structure in the temple grounds. Despite not painted in bright colours, rather the pagoda is still clad in its original wooden colour, I like this pagoda for its rustic look. This pagoda, like those temples we seen in Mt Shosha yesterday, looks like they have been assembled block by block with no nails used.
After going through the ritual of cleansing our hands, a ritual when visiting temples in Japan, we headed for the main prayer hall of Chionji. This prayer hall was also made entirely out of wood, took 2 years in its construction and was completed in 1657. The main prayer hall looked more like a big pavilion, with a large fan-shaped roof. It is a ritual here to ring the bell hanging at the entrance of the prayer hall. My friend and I each got a fortune that is shaped like a folding fan. We left our fortunes hanging one of the pine trees in the temple grounds, which is what the locals did. The surrounding of the Chionji Temple exudes a sense of zen, though the other parts of the temple are out of bounds. We left Chionji via the temple gate, known as Ogonkaku (山門). The 2 level gate was built in 7 years by 8,780 carpenters, completing construction in the year 1767.
The Best Way to Visit Amanohashidate – Cycling Through Sandbar
In front of Chionji is a shopping street that sells mainly souvenirs and a handful of restaurants. After settling our lunch, we proceeded to one of the shops to rent a bike. There are several shops on this street that one can rent the bicycle for. We asked around and found a shop that rents a bicycle for the whole day for ¥400 (the other shops’ rate is ¥400 for 2 hours).
The 3.6 km sandbar in Amanohashidate has Miyazu Bay on one side and Ine Bay. The entire sandbar, at its narrowest point, is a mere 20m wide and 170m wide at its widest point, is home to some 8,000 Japanese pine tree. The sandbar has been moulded to its current shape through thousands of years of earth movement. To get to the other side of Miyazu Bay, one can either walk or cycle or take a ferry across the bay. I think of the best way of visiting Amanohashidate is to cycle through the sandbar, which cuts the travelling time (compared to walking) from 50 mins to 20 mins. Cycling through the sandbar, I was able to see these pine trees up close, as well as the white sandy beach on Ine Bay side of the sandbar. There are a number of locals playing by the beach near to the South side of the sandbar (near to the JR Station). There is only one shop at this side of the sandbar that is operating. Throughout the sandbar, I spotted some buildings that have seen better days, these days these buildings appear to be abandoned. There are also numerous pavilions along the sandbar, ideal for visitors to picnic or simply lunch with a bento set that is bought from one of the nearby shops. There are also several points along the sandbar where vending machines can be found. We reached the northern side of the sandbar in 20 minutes cycling through it.
Motoise Kono Shrine（龍神社）
Crossing a road, we found a spot to park our bicycles and proceeded to the ropeway station for Kasamatsu Park. The base ropeway station to Kasamatsu Park is rather hidden. To get to the base station, we passed through Motoise Kono Shrine. Motoise Kono Shrine is a Shinto Shrine, where the Goddess of Agriculture is enshrined. The shrine grounds are especially peaceful as soon as I entered it, partly due not many people visiting the shrine at the time I was there. Within the shrine grounds, I can hear a harp-like sound produced as water drips into an underground cave from the Japanese garden ornament. The shrine grounds are not very big and that photography is not allowed in the shrine grounds, we can only take pictures from outside the shrine.
The station where the cable car/ chairlift to Kasamatsu Park is a mere 2 mins walk from Motoise Kono Shrine. We were given the option to take the chairlift or cable car up to Kasamatsu Park. We opted for the chairlift as it looked more exciting. One should take the chairlift when coming down from Kasamatsu Park as one will be treated to the magnificent view of Amanohashidate, as the chairlift faces the sandbar when descending from the hill. When going up the hill, the chairlift is facing the hill. The chairlift rides take about 5 mins, every now and then I turned around in hope to capture some pictures of the view that made it to the top 3 scenic views in Japan.
We soon reached the top of the hill. As soon as we turned around, we know that spending the 3 hours on the JR to Amanohashidate is well worth it. The view here is nothing short of spectacular. From the viewpoint here, the sandbar resembles the word “One” in Kanji and Chinese. There are several points where we can see the scenic view of the bay. My friend and I headed to this wooden platform that protrudes into the air where we caught our first glimpse of the Bridge to Heaven. It is simply amazing and to a certain extent, therapeutic. Kasamatsu Park indeed provided the best view of the sandbar. Up here, we can see the sandbar trying to link both sides of the land while separating the lake from the sea. On the left of the sandbar is Ine Bay and the right is Miyazu Bay. With the mountain ranges forming the backdrop, we felt we can stay here forever. There is a small platform by the side of the wooden platform, where a piece of thick glass is used as a panel. From this glass panel, we realised how high we are in the air. There is building in front of the wooden platform. My friend and I checked out the second level, to see if we can grab a better view of the sandbar. On the second level, a big heart-shape with a bell attached serving as a backdrop to 2 chairs was found. This is a great place for lovers to take pictures from, though I do find the pink heart structure a tad too cheesy and spoilt the view of the sandbar.
We then headed to the side furthest away from the station. From here we can see out into Ine Bay and some of the islands popping out from the sea as though some playful child is peeping out of the sea. A shrine is installed at this side of Kasamatsu Park. Beside the small shrine, one can try one’s luck by tossing a ceramic tile (3 tiles for ¥300, just take 3 tiles and drop the coins into the coin box) into a ring that is installed in the halls. It is believed that one will get one’s wishes come true if one managed to toss the ceramic tile through the ring. After seeing so many people trying their luck, my friend and I also participated in the fun. I got my first ceramic tile through the ring and was immediately applauded by the Japanese around me. At the time we visited, other than my friend and I, the only other foreigners are this couple (seems from Taiwan). The rest of the visitors are Japanese.
There are some platforms that look like benches near the ring tossing area. This is where an ancient old practice of Matanozuki (股のぞき) of viewing the sandbar has existed for millennia. To do Matanozuki, one would have to stand on one of these platforms with one’s back facing the sandbar and bend down to look at the sandbar (upside down) between one’s legs. My friend and I did the Matanozuki. By viewing the sandbar this way, we understood why the sandbar is also called “Bridge to Heaven” (天の浮橋) by the locals. Viewing the sandbar upside down, the sandbar seems to connect the earth to the sky. It is a must try activity when one comes to view the “Bridge to Heaven” at Matanozuki Park. We were mesmerised by the view here in Kasamatsu Park and did not realise we had spent quite a bit of time here.
As it was approaching 5pm (the time we need to return our bikes), my friend and I headed to the station. Our plan was to take the chairlift down so we can enjoy the view of the “Bridge to Heaven” as we were leaving the park. However the chairlift ceased operations at 4pm, our only option is to ride in the cable car down the hill. Once at the base cable car station, we raced across the sandbar and made it in time to return the bike before the shop closes. After returning our bikes, we headed back to Dotonbori in Osaka for our dinner before heading back to our accommodation to rest for the night.