Showing posts with label JR. Show all posts
Showing posts with label JR. Show all posts

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The Tango Region of Kyoto II : The tale of the Bridge to Heaven

To many of us, the mention of Kyoto most often conjures up images of ancient Buddhist temples, shrines and age-old Japanese traditions. But Kyoto, as a prefecture, offers alot more than history and culture. It is also a prefecture resplendent in natural scenic beauty.
I know people are going to say, which part of Japan does not boast scenic views? Well, the northern part of the Kyoto prefecture known as the Tango region is home to one of Japan's three most scenic views. A reputation not just any place in Japan is worthy to claim.
One summer day in early August, I decided to head for Amanohashidate where the famous spot of scenic beauty is.  Amanohashidate is not accessible directly on the JR train network. Instead, you need to transfer from the JR Nishimaizuru station to the private KTR or Kitakinki Tango Railway. As I had bought the KTR one day train pass (1200 Yen) to get to the Yosano sunflower fields in the Tango region, I used the same pass - which allowed for unlimited use on the KTR within the same day - to get to Amanohashidate.  
According to an ancient myth, the scenic spot in Amanohashidate - which is actually a sandbar covered with around 8000 pine trees - was once a bridge built by one of the Gods to connect Heaven and Earth. Due to the carelessness of the God, the bridge collapsed one day and fell to Earth, becoming the sandbar seen today.
The famous sandbar is said to be best viewed from the hills on either ends of it. From pictures I had seen of the spot, I thought the view was better from the south and so headed for the observatory on the southern hills. The only way up the hills was by cable car or chairlift. I bought a two-way ticket for 800 Yen which could be used for either the cable car or chairlift. The original price was 850 Yen but I got a discount coupon from the Amanohashidate Tourist Information Centre. It might be a good idea to head for Tourist Information Centres when sightseeing as you never know what kind of discounts you could get.
At the observatory, it was a common sight to see visitors bent over appreciating the scenic view of the sandbar from between their legs. Through that position, it was said that one could see the sandbar extended into the heavens. Of course I had to try that too! But I was so concerned about losing my balance and toppling down the hill that I could only stay in that position for a matter of seconds. I did manage to capture a photograph of the view when I was bent over though. A friend in Kyoto told me that it was just a stretch of land with sand. I guess it really depends on individual perspectives. I thought the view was fantastic.
There were various other ways to appreciate the views from the southern hills. There was a small amusement park with a ferris wheel and a cycling track in mid-air, as well as observation decks at greater heights where visitors could go to enjoy the views.  I didn't stay too long on the hill (probably 45 minutes or so), as I wanted to walk on the sandbar.
I went up the hills by cable car and came down by the chairlift so that I could take in the breathtaking sight of the sandbar both ways.  The chairlift made me a little nervous at first. As it had no seatbelt, I was worried that I might be flung into the woods below me.
But as usual, I worried too much. I survived the short 5-minute journey down and was able to experience the walk on the bridge that once led to the heavens.

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Tango Region of Kyoto I : In the trail of summer flowers

One summer day in early August, I left my mansion at 4am in the morning and cycled to the JR Enmachi station near my place so that I could catch the early local train to the Tango region.  I had read from the prefecture newsletter about the sunflower fields in Yosano, a town in the Tango region. If sakura is the flower of spring, then the himawari, as sunflowers are known in Japanese, is the flower to see at the height of summer. Yosano was to be my first destination that day.
Using the economical Seishun 18 ticket which allowed me travel only on the slower local or rapid trains on the JR network, I took a train to the JR Nishimaizuru station, which involved going through two train transfers at JR Sonobe and Ayabe stations respectively. From Nishimaizuru, I then had to transfer to the privately-run KTR or Kitakinki Tango Railway to get to Nodagawa which is the nearest station to Yosano. The JR Seishun 18 ticket could not be used on a private railway train so I bought a one-day train ticket from the KTR station master at 1200 Yen. 
The train journey including transfers took me about 3.5 hours for one way. Upon arrival at Nodagawa, I got some directions from the station master on how to get to Yosano, since I couldn't find details online. The kind man told me it was possible to walk there in 30 minutes. I was glad I didn't have to incur additional transport costs.
My leisurely walk probably took me an hour as there were many pretty sights along the way. From the wild flowers along the path to a massive pond of water lotus in bloom to the expanse of rice fields and more, the long walk under the hot summer sky was definitely worth it. It was so peaceful a place that all you could hear were the songs of the insects in your path.

At the Yosano sunflower fields, I was surprised that there were not many people. I had expected there to be many visitors as it was the second last day the fields were opened to the public. The access to the fields probably deterred tourists and those without private transport. How many people would have the time I had to spend 4 or 5 hours traveling just to look at some flowers?  But then again, it was not just some flowers. The fields were quite a sight to behold and definitely worth losing sleep and traveling for! I didn't know the flowers could grow so tall! 

One observation though was that many flowers were drooping, which meant they were close to withering.  The fields were opened to the public for a limited period from 4 to 12 Aug (admission fee of 200 Yen). It would have been better to go in the beginning of the period in order to see all the flowers in their best form. A surprise from the visit though was that visitors were each given a small packet of sunflower seeds as a souvenir so we could grow our own flowers.

After spending a morning at Yosano, it was a long walk back to the station and the sweltering heat didn't make it easier. But with the beautiful images of the sunflowers at the back of my mind, my spirits were high and I walked with purpose towards my next destination.