Amanohashidate, one of Japan’s three most beautiful places, can now be scratched off of my to-do list.
Two days ago, while sitting in my room and planning out my route for next week’s Rail Pass journey, I thought “Well, while I’m at it, I might as well plan out the route for Amanohashidate too.” Then I thought “Wait, when am I going to have time to go?” Then I thought “I’m not doing anything tomorrow.” Then I thought “All of this thinking is making me tired. I’m gonna go get an ice cream sandwich.”
So the next day I woke up at 6:30am and went!
At first I was a little worried about the weather, because Amanohashidate is a beach-area and when I left home it was completely overcast. But lucky for me, within the last 30 minutes of my 3-hour journey it cleared up and turned into an absolutely perfect day.
The journey carried me through the mountains that run down Japan’s main island and divide its two coasts, through smaller and smaller towns along the way. Many train stations were so small that they didn’t even have a turnstile, just a man nodding each rider through the entrance. Falling in and out of consciousness, I watched the riders come and go as I passed through the endless mountains and plains of rice fields.
The whole ride was very pleasant, but it wasn’t until the very end that it became truly beautiful. Emerging from the last tunnel, the scenery opened up to a reveal that I was riding along a cliff overlooking a small town right on the coast of the Sea of Japan, with water almost as blue as the Caribbean. To my other side was a huge expanse of green rice fields with a mountain range perfectly laid out in front of a clear blue sky. Looking out over the ocean just reminded me once again how much I’ve missed it since leaving California.
Stepping off the small one-car train, I immediately noticed three things: First, the sweet smell of an ocean breeze (I miss it already). Second, that it had become incredibly hot – I would later find out that it was just over 35 degrees (95F). Third, I’D FORGOTTEN TO PACK FOOD! So I headed into a combini for some onigiri, and then down to the sandbar.
Amanohashidate is a roughly 4-km long pine tree covered sand bar stretching across the Mayazu Bay in Northern Kyoto Prefecture. For over a millennium travelers have been climbing the mountains on either side to view the bar (the proper viewing method is to turn your back towards the bay, bend over and look at it from between your legs, making it appear as a “bridge in heaven!”)
I took my time walking the whole length of the bar with my feet in the water. Although the first five minutes or so carried me through a lively beach with swimmers and drinkers, the bar was largely unpopulated. Every now and then I’d pass a large jellyfish or seastar that had washed onto the sand. But it wasn’t long before I realized that I was becoming severely sunburned – for the second time this week (I haven’t even stopped peeling since the Fuji climb) so I was soon forced to continue my walk under the trees.
By the time I reached the other side, I was so soaked with sweat and so burned that I decided I just had to splurge and buy a small bottle of suntan lotion. The stuff is so insanely expensive in Japan that up until now I’ve just refused to buy it out of general principle. It’s seriously like $10 for a bottle that’s the size of a free sample in the US. Disgusting. But in this case I was left with little choice, so I grabbed it and powered to the top of the mountain (no wussy chairlift for me).
The view was awesome, and I spent nearly an hour up there conversing with a Japanese woman who, after learning that I could speak Japanese, started hitting me with questions left and right. It was nice practice, but we soon went our separate ways.
Finally, I descended the mountain, put my stuff in a coin locker, and got in the water. Ohhhh man. It was as warm as a swimming pool. I floated around, completely at peace, until I looked down and noticed that I was surrounded by probably 50 jellyfish larger than my hands. Apparently these jellyfish don’t sting – and everyone was just swimming among them completely unphased. It was a little weird feeling the things slide off of my hands and feet as I swam, but I eventually got used to it, and swam out to a small floating dock where I spent the rest of the daylight hours laying.
But at last, my hunger forced me to return. A man cannot live on onigiri and popsicles alone. So I returned to the small train where I was entertained by a pair of conductors loudly calling out “YOSH!” every time it successfully passed a crossing or departed from a station. One sushi obento and 3 hours later, I was home – and ready to go out drinking.
I love summer vacation.**