One of the more popular ways to experience Japan’s Amanohashidate sandbar is to cruise it by bike. // © 2015 Shane Nelson
Feature image (above): Amanohashidate sandbar is located in the north Kyoto Prefecture. // © 2015 Kyoto Prefecture/JNTO
Legend has it that Japan’s Amanohashidate sandbar was once a ladder to heaven. The thin strip of sand, located about 90 minutes north of Kyoto by train, is a little over 2 miles long today but only 360 feet at its widest point.
Commonly heralded as one of Japan’s most striking natural wonders, Amanohashidate is home to more than 8,000 black pine trees. The peculiar geological formation straddles Miyazu Bay and offers visitors a chance for a peaceful stroll or leisurely bike ride along the water.
Renting a bicycle and traveling the well-maintained trail across the Amanohashidate sandbar is probably best tackled after a proper lunch. Visitors are in luck, though. At the southern end of the sandbar, they will find great food at the Hashidate Daimaru restaurant.
I sampled a traditional Shiki-gozen bento box meal at the restaurant, marveling at the elaborate collection of lacquered wooden boxes filled with tasty tempura vegetables, soba noodles, steamed pork and a range of pickled vegetables.
And just a few hundred yards from Hashidate Daimaru, travelers will find the photogenic Chionji Temple, a sacred and ancient Buddhist site.
Dedicated to Monju Bosatsu, the Buddhist god of wisdom and intellect, the temple attracts many students who pray for academic success and wisdom. Apparently, the place becomes crowded with knowledge-seekers around the time of exams at local high schools and universities. The facility also features a pagoda dating back to the 1500s. It is the final resting place for a famous Japanese poet, Izumi Shikibu.
Folks seeking the best views of the Amanohashidate sandbar will want to head to Mount Monju, a peak on the northern end of the sandbar that can be accessed via chairlift or cable car for about $8.
From the top, travelers will find it easy to overdo it on photos and will likely be introduced to the traditional manner of admiring the natural wonder. Step one: Bend over at the waist and reach for your toes. Step two: Look back through your legs and behind you at the sandbar. That vantage is said to reveal the sandbar’s true “heavenly ladder” qualities.
Folks should plan on about an hour to walk across the sandbar or about 20 minutes to bike it. During summer months, the Amanohashidate's sandy shoreline is frequently busy with beach-goers and swimmers enjoying the warmer waters of Miyazu Bay. Bikes can be rented for about $4 near Chionji Temple and the Hashidate Daimaru restaurant.