Three Scenic Views of Japan

Three Scenic Views of Japan

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As I mentioned in the Tokyo Drift 2 – the Day Trips post, we set out to visit the three famous views of Japan. The Three Views were first identified by a Confucian scholar, Hayashi Razan, at the time of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1643. They are exactly what they sound like. Itsukushima on Miyajima Island, in western Japan near Hiroshima, is a shrine; Amanohashidate, north of Kyoto, is a land bridge; the third, in northern Japan, near Sendai, overlooks Matsushima Bay.

Matsushima

We visited Matsushima as part of a day trip from Tokyo. When we woke up, Diem was not feeling well. She caught the cold I had a couple of days ago and this was her worst day. Because we didn’t get to see Mt. Fuji when we visited Hakone, we had thoughts of actually heading back to see Mt. Fuji at a town called Gotemba and also seeing Matsushima in one day. Gotemba has an outlet mall, nice views of Mt. Fuji and is accessible by the JR Pass. However, the two spots are in opposite directions from Tokyo. We would have had to leave at 5:30 AM to see both and that wasn’t happening.

Matsushima Bridge
Matsushima Bridge

Matsushima a group of islands about 1.5 hours from Tokyo. These islands are said to resemble artistically arranged bonsai placed on the sea, and has been celebrated by poets and artists. We got to Matsushima around 1 PM and walked to see the famous red bridge and the famous view of the different islands around Matsushima. We had a cloudy windy day so it wasn’t ideal for viewing the city. We were going to do a 1 hour hike up a mountain to get a better view of the islands, but since the weather was cloudy and the visibility wasn’t that good, we decided to just call it a day and head back. We also wanted to go back to the Ramen St. at the Tokyo station. We went to a different spot which was pretty good but not as good as yesterday or Ichirin.

Matsushima was a pretty disappointing visit for the hype of being one of three famous views of Japan. Maybe the views are nicer on a clear, sunny day and maybe it’s better if you rent a boat to get a better view of the islands, but even still there isn’t much in the surrounding town. The was a lot of construction going on at the port and around the town so maybe in a couple years the town will be built up more and be a more worthwhile day or overnight trip.

Miyajima Island (Itsukushima Shrine)

Bambi ate my map!
Bambi ate my map!

As I mentioned in the Hiroshima post, Miyajima Island is just a short trip from downtown Hiroshima. We had thoughts of seeing both Hiroshima and Miyajima in one day since they are so close but decided they really deserve full dedicated days. So we split them up over two days. We took the train from Kyoto to Hiroshima again, then took a local train to ferry station, and then 10 min ferry ride to Miyajima Island. Miyajima Island is famous for the Itsukushima Shrine, floating torii submerged in the sea, local deer, and the view from the top of Mt. Misen.

Right when we got off, I grabbed a map and we started walking toward the shrine. Before the trip, Diem was worried that we might not see deer, but immediately as we left the ferry station we ran into a couple of deer in the square in front of the station. We saw signs in the ferry station saying that during the autumn mating season visitors should stay away from the male deer with antlers because they can get aggressive. Luckily they were pretty tame for us. The deer are really cute and definitely not afraid of people. Diem got next to one and as I was trying to get a picture of her, another deer came up to me, reached in my pocket, grabbed my map I just picked up, and started eating it. The deer with Diem saw that tasty treat and grabbed a piece off for himself. We took some selfies with the deer and then made our way over to the shrine. The roads are scattered with deer along the way and at the shrine. The torii  arch in the ocean was cool to see and Itsukushima temple was toward the end of the trail pay an entrance fee to go inside. We had seen enough Japanese temples and shrines by this point and got some pretty good pictures of the exterior so we decided not to go in.

Top of Mt. Misen
Top of Mt. Misen

We went the 5 level pagoda for a bit then decided to do a hike to the top of the Mount Misen, the famous mountain on the Island. There are a couple different routes up the mountain and we picked the Daishoin Route. It is the shortest route but it also turned out to be the steepest. The map at the train station said it would take 1.5 hours to get to the top but we did it in about an hour (humble brag). The hike is fairly strenuous but it has a nice path and is mostly covered by trees the entire way. Even with the tree cover, I was sweating bullets along the way because of the heat and the steepness of the hike. At the top, there is an observation deck but it was closed for some reason. There are also a bunch of large boulders that we climbed up and took some pictures. It was a pretty amazing view which made the long, hot hike worthwhile. It was a little hazy out but you could see Hiroshima, the Floating Torii shrine, and the islands of the Seto Inland Sea. We hiked down and got back to the shrine around sunset. The sun sets behind the shrine and we got some beautiful pictures of the sun setting in the background. It was after 7 PM before we started heading home and it was 3.5 hours before we got back and into bed. It was a long day but definitely memorable.

Itsukushima shrine
Itsukushima shrine

Amanohashidate

IMG_4646Amanohashidate was the last stop in our quest to see the three magnificent views of Japan. Amanohashidate is famous for its sandbar strip that closes the bay of Miyazu in Kyoto Prefecture. Nearly 3 km, long this pine-covered beach forms a path dotted with temples and is famous since the eighth century. We almost didn’t go because we ran into a couple of rainy and cloudy days in Japan and we wanted to make sure we had good weather while we were there. We checked the weather before we left and it said it was going to be clear in the afternoon. We found out that the JR pass wouldn’t take us all the way there so took the JR train to Fukuchiyama, got off and bought an Amanohashidate pass for $1600 yen each. The pass includes the round trip train ride from Fukuchiyama to Amanohashidate, a 2 hour bike rental or a one way boat ride, and a chair lift or monorail ride up one of the mountains that overlooks Amanohashidate. It’s a pretty good deal if you’re spending an entire day there and want to explore.

Killing it on the bikes
Killing it on the bikes

We got to Amanohashidate around 1 PM and we were bummed that it was pretty cloudy and cold. We got a map from the visitor center and asked for a good place to eat. They recommended a spot by the river and we headed there. The food was okay but it was a bit expensive. Next we rented bikes and headed across the strait. The bike ride was a quick 15 minutes to the other side of the strait along a nice paved path. There is a nice beach along the straight but it was cold and windy so it wasn’t really a beach day. It was still a cool little bike ride though. The strait is filled with trees along both sides of the path. Diem saw that there was a winery on the other side so we rode our bikes there and were hoping to get a glass of wine. Unfortunately, Japan has a zero tolerance drinking and driving (or biking) so they wouldn’t sell us any glasses of wine but we were able to buy a bottle to take with us. We rode to the Kasamatsu Station to ride the chair lift up to see the famous view of Amanohashidate from Kasamatsu Park. The lift was include in our pass and is normally 660 yen. The top of the chair lift had a nice observation deck and a little shop. The sky actually cleared up for a bit while we were there so we got some nice pics. Apparently, there is a custom called matanozoki where visitors face their backs to the tombolo (the coastal strip), lean forward and admire the scenery by placing their head between their legs. This way, you supposedly get an impression that the bank is a bridge that floats in the sky. We didn’t really get that visualization, you can try seeing for yourself by viewing the picture of the sandbar (below) upside down. From the top we could see another viewpoint of the sandbar on the other side of the lake next to the train station we came in on.

We had to return the bikes that way anyway so we took them back to the other side and then walked over to the other chair lift station. This chair lift was not included in our Amanohashidate pass and cost 800 yen to go up Mount Monju. We decided it would be worth it to go up since the view is supposed to be better from this side. Also, after all the hiking we did on Miyajima Island we weren’t ready to walk up another mountain. At the top of the chair lift was Amanohashidate View Land, a mini amusement park. It had a ferris wheel, a small train, and other little games and shops. It was a cloudy, windy Wednesday afternoon so there weren’t many people around and all the rides were closed. The observation deck on this side was called the Dragon’s path and was a curved walkway that was supposed to be in the shape of a dragon. It looked pretty cool but was a little awkward to walk on. Unfortunately, the clouds returned so we didn’t that good of pictures but I’m still glad we went up because this side really did have the better view. We only stayed up there about 30 minutes and then headed back. On the train ride back we enjoyed the wine which was actually pretty good.

Sandbar of Amanohasadate
Sandbar of Amanohasadate

Miyajima Island and Amanohashidate were really spectacular and memorable trips. I would say Miyajima was my favorite, followed closely by Amanohashidate, and Matsushima in a distant third. I’m glad we got to see all three views but if you have limited time I would prioritize the three views accordingly. There are small towns at all three views but really a day trip is all you need for each one.

To see the full gallery of our trips to the Three Views of Japan click here: Japan's 3 Most Scenic Views

 

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Paul is a lawyer taking a mid-career break focused on capturing all his adventures during his yearlong honeymoon around the world.

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