The Other Wonders of Kyoto Prefecture
The city of Kyoto is regarded as one of the most incredible cities to visit in Japan, thanks to its many sightseeing spots, impressive history, and the many cultural traditions that can be found across the city. However, if you feel like you have seen everything in the city, or that there are too many people there and that you want to discover something new without the crowd, why not go out of Kyoto city and into Kyoto prefecture. There are many spots in the prefecture that are often disregarded because of the glow that Kyoto city has. I will today show you how to extend your stay in Kyoto with different places that are worth the visit, especially if you have means of locomotion like a car to move around.
Located in the northern part of the prefecture near the town of Miyazu, is an interesting natural phenomenon. Amanohashidate, or the “bridge in heaven” literally, is a sandbar considered as one of Japan’s three scenic views (established in 1643 by scholar Hayashi Gahō), with Itsukushima (Miyajima) in Hiroshima prefecture and Matsushima Bay in Miyagi prefecture. With a length of 3.3km and connecting both sides of the Miyazu bay, it is possible to cross it on foot very easily. During the summer, the place is used as an ideal holiday destination to go have a nice swim in the ocean. On the sandbar is also located the freshwater source of Isoshimizu, despite being surrounded by the ocean. Being mentioned in a haiku, it has also been selected as one of the best springs and rivers in Japan by the Environmental Agency in 1985.
The most impressive way to observe Amanohashidate though is from above. You can observe it either from the northern side, from Kasamatsu Park, or even higher up from the Mt. Nariai Panoramic Overlook (stop by Kono Shrine, an impressive shrine at the top of the sandbar). You may also decide to observe the sandbar from the southern side, where you may go up a mountain on a chairlift to reach a small amusement park that offers many rides targeting children but also a spectacular view of Amanohashidate.
Coming back to the name, do you know why local people gave it the name of “bridge in heaven”? On a very sunny day and a clear sky, if you turn around, bend over and look at the sandbar between your legs, you will have the impression that Amanohashidate is standing in the sky.
Located 15km north of Amanohashidate and Miyazu is a small fishing village called Ine and is considered as one of the most beautiful villages in Japan. The village is considered famous across the country thanks to its wooden fishing houses called “funaya”. Most of these houses are directly on the waterfront with the main rooms on the first floor, with the ground floor turned into a place to park their boat.
You can reach the village after a short drive north from Miyazu through the countryside. The village itself is very peaceful and can be fun to explore one afternoon. You can enjoy lunch directly on the waterfront, eating in a local restaurant or inn, some sashimi, for example. Take advantage also of boat tours around the Ine village and meet some of the local fishermen. If you still have some free time, why not drive up to Kyogamisaki Lighthouse to have a brilliant view over the Japanese inner sea.
Kayabuki no Sato
Located in the countryside of central Kyoto prefecture just north of the village of Miyama and about 50km north of Kyoto is this incredible village frozen in time. With houses built with thatched roofs, this village has a similar vibe to Shirakawago in Gifu prefecture, but has much fewer visitors than the latter, despite its cultural heritage site status.
It is highly recommended to arrive early in the morning to avoid the crowds and to better enjoy the area, as you can have the possibility to walk aboard the village to take in its incredible atmosphere. You will also see some breathtaking views, notably because of the mountains in the background. Most of the houses are still used by the local villagers, so to see what the inside of a house looks like, stop by the Miyama Folklore Museum, located inside the village.
On-site, there are a couple of B&Bs where you can stay the night and really enjoy the authentic village life. There are also two cafés in the village for you to rest during your visit. If you want to take your visit even further, the village has English-speaking guides, with whom you can book a tour, to learn more about the history and traditions of the village of Kayabuki no Sato.
Please see above a video introducing the city of Maizuru
East of Amanohashidate and on the sealine of Kyoto Prefecture, is the town of Maizuru, one of the largest towns in the prefecture outside of the Kyoto city area, and home to many sightseeing spots worth the detour, especially if you are passing by to go see other places in the area. One of the first spots is the Maizuru Brick Park, comprising 8 buildings built with red bricks between 1902 and 1918, today designated as National Important Cultural Properties and are now used as a tourist attraction. Five of them are used as museums, halls, and exhibition facilities, and there are also restaurants and shops on site.
Maizuru Brick Park and Tanabe Castle, Maizuru
The Nishi District is another spot to spend some time in Maizuru. Developed around the local Tanabe castle long ago, today a castle gate has been recreated on the site of the former castle, and there are also many historical shrines and temples, and traditional townscapes to be found here.
The seaside part of the town in the Oura district also has a lot of charm. The scenery here is beautiful, and this entire seaside area is designated as Wakasa Wan Quasi-National Park. You can easily walk around the area to enjoy the beaches and the local parks.
Tsuchi-Ebi, Kyoto Mackerel, and Nikujaga, three specialties of Maizuru
Being a fishing town, Maizuru has also developed a great number of local specialties for you to enjoy, such as the tsuchi-ebi, or muddy shrimp in English in the spring (it looks brown and not really appetizing, but its delicate taste is said to be sweeter than sweet shrimp when eaten as sashimi), or also the Kyoto mackerel, served mostly in the winter as a sashimi dish. Maizuru has also a great production of local green tea and is said to be the place of origin for the well-known dish nikujaga, a meat and potato dish which you can enjoy all across the country.
In the western part of the prefecture is another town with a great local culture and many sights, Fukuchiyama. One of the major attractions is its castle, Fukuchiyama castle. Built by Akechi Mitsuhide, renowned to be the assassin of Oda Nobunaga, the castle is today registered as one of “Japan’s Best Historical Parks” because of the beautiful views and sights you can find here. Inside the castle, today is a folk museum exhibiting articles left by the historical castle lords.
The castle is also famous for the Bon Odori dance that comes with it. Said to have originated from when the castle was being built 400 years ago when the people under Akechi Mitsuhide's rule were carrying stone and lumber for the castle and would chant "dokkoise, dokkoise" while raising their hands and swinging their legs in an interesting manner. Today, the Fukuchiyama Dokkoise Festival is held around the time of the Obon holiday every year and the central city streets are filled with dancers.
Another major attraction in Fukuchiyama is the Japan Oni Cultural Museum (photos above), situated at the foot of the Oeyama mountain range, and is home to the most notorious Oni (demon or ogre) in Japan, Shuten Doji. The museum explains local folklore and has displays of both national and international oni masks and artifacts. There is a large collection of onigawara, or oni-shaped roof tiles, which were used on buildings throughout history.
To learn more
Ine Tourism: https://www.ine-kankou.jp/en
Miyama (Kayabuki no Sato) travel: https://miyamanavi.com/en/
Maizuru Tourism: http://www.maizuru-kanko.net/en/wp-en/
Fukuchiyama Tourist Association: https://dokkoise.com/en/
Another Kyoto: https://www.kyototourism.org/en/
Kyoto by the Sea: https://www.kyotobythesea.com/