Over Golden Week, a series of public holidays in early May, I had the chance to explore places outside of the Kyoto area. Sadly, the Japan Rail Pass for whole Japan that proved very helpful many times is not available to residents. However, I could make ample use of the JR Kansai Wide Area Pass, which any foreign passport holder can use.
Over three days I explored various destinations across Kansai, including Kurashiki and Kinosaki Onsen and even made it to Shikoku.
On Greenery Day or midori no hi I went to the northern part of Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures to see the sea in Amanohashidate and enjoy the onsen in Kinosaki.
There is a direct train from Kyoto to Amanohashidate, named Hashidate, but since I wanted to leave early in the morning, I used the Kinosaki limited express instead and transferred to the Kyoto Tango railway in Fukuchiyama. The private railway is not covered by the all-Japan JR pass and requires a surcharge but with the Kansai Wide Area Pass it is covered.
The ride was pleasant and it was not busy at all. The landscape was enjoyable to watch, especially in the beginning. The cityscape of Kyoto quickly changed to untouched nature as we traveled through the Hozukyou gorge behind Arashiyama. The ride continued along the countryside of Kyoto where I saw countless flooded rice paddies abundant with recently planted rice plants.
The second train had a nice design and interior and I enjoyed the ride, even though it was not electrified and therefore a bit louder.
From Amanohashidate station it is a short walk towards the main attraction, the pine covered sandbank. Leading up to it are several shops lending bicycles and I rented one to explore the area faster.
The alley with pine trees and the “beach” stretching out on both sides made for a scenic landscape to pass through. With the bike it took about 15 minutes to pass over to the other side. Towards the beginning there is a small temple and multiple rest stations.
On both sides of the “bridge” there are cable car stations and observation platforms to enjoy the view over Amanohashidate. I chose the one further way because I wanted to have a good grasp of the timing (far away things first), but I think both sides are equally scenic.
There are two parallel ways to ascend the hill, a chair lift and a cable car. The ride with the chair lift was a funny experience and if you are careful you can take a photo on the ride.
From the hill you can see the famous view over the sandbank. A typical thing to do is looking upside down through the legs and imagine that Amanohashidate is a bridge to heaven, or a dragon.
For lunch I had quickly checked Tabelog for inspiration and thereby found a seafood market a bit outside the main area down the road. With the bike it took me just 15 minutes from the ropeway station and the ride along the coastline was nice.
While the fish market was a bit off the shot for most tourists it was still frequented by many who came by car, so it was busier than I thought. In the complex there is a restaurant where you can eat kaisendon, a market selling fresh seafood and a food stall selling grilled and fried seafood.
At the latter I had yakiika (fried squid) and age-chikuwa (deep fried fish cake often found in oden). I also picked up a pack of sushi with grilled fish for later.
Thanks to the bicycle I quickly made it back to the sandbank. It is a funny sight to see the sand mixed with the pine needles. There was also a person camping.
Just right on time I returned the bike and returned to the station where I caught the next train towards the second destination of the day, Kinosaki Onsen.
To summarize, my recommendations for Amanohashidate are: 1) arrive early to avoid the crowds, 2) rent a bike and explore the area, 3) try restaurants outside the main touristic area.
I could do all these things within 4 hours which might be too rushed for group travelers. Also, if you allow for 2-3 more hours time make sure to visit Ine as well. The fishery village at the water can be reached by bus in half an hour from the north side.
One more piece of advice if you want to do the same trip. Since this year several Limited Express trains have reserved seats only. This means you have to choose and book a place at a counter before traveling. This applies to both the Hashidate, Kinosaki and two other trains (Maizuru and Kuroshio).