Our ship docked in Maizuru so its passengers could visit Kyoto. Kyoto is a wonderful city; it was Japan’s capital for hundreds of years and still is a cultural center. Kyo Castle, the best surviving example of castle architecture from the feudal era is there. The Golden Pavillion ideally situated on a lake which reflects its beauty, is one of the most popular attractions in Japan. But we did not choose to go to Kyoto. Why? It was a two hours drive away. Cruise ship companies do this a lot. They make you think that Paris, Berlin, and Rome are visitable by cruise ship. Cairo is the worst; you spend six hours in a bus so you can spend twenty minutes at the Pyramids. Luckily, we have already been to Kyoto, although it would have been fun to see it again.
The ship offered an attractive alternative that involved much less bus time - a visit to Amanohashidate and the fishermen’s houses in Ine. Ine is one of those towns that time forgot, because it was so isolated. Fishermen built their homes right up the edge of the mountains. They had garages for their boats on the lower level of their homes, but only enough space for a foot paths behind them. We saw their homes from the front on a boat ride and peered down at them from above at the top of the mountain. It would have been fun to walk around and take close up photos of Ine, but there was nowhere for a bus or even a car to stop. The sun was out, but the marine fog layer made it rather hazy. Our guide kept trying to point out the long pine tree covered sandobaru. We had no idea what he was talking about.
We drove a few miles further down the bay and came to Amanohashidate, a much larger town. The guide said it might be easier to see the sandobaru from there. We stopped at Motoise Kono Shinto shrine and Chionji Temple, a Buddhist temple. Since 80% of Japanese are both Buddhist and Shinto, there are lots of temples in every town. People usually go the Shinto temple for happy occasions and the Buddhist for sad ones. There is lots of commerce involved in Buddhist Temples, People buy incense sticks to burn and little trinkets and wooden tablets where they can write their wishes. The Buddhist temples are especially popular with tense Japanese students who are wishing and hoping that they will do well enough on their school exams to qualify for university. The trees were festooned with festive looking little fans. Fortunes shaped like fans were also sold at the temple. If people liked their fortune they took it home, If not, they tied the fortune to the pine trees and left it there. Makes sense to me.
At lunch we stopped at a restaurant with a beautiful location on the water and ate the most authentic Japanese meal we’ve had so far. It was all edible, but much of it was a mystery and the guide was not around to ask. The view revealed the mysterious sandobaru - a six kilometer spit of land extended out into the bay and was covered with pine trees. Our ears still need some fine tuning for the Japanese accent. According to legend, it used to be a ladder which a goddess used to climb the mountain to visit her lover. Then it fell into the water and the love affair had to come to an end. There are certain vistas where you are supposed to stand with your head between your legs and look at the sandbar upside down so it looks like a ladder gong up the mountain. No way Jose.
The sandbar provides an ideal recreational playground. The sandy beaches are well protected from the waves of the Sea of Japan. Many locals rented bikes to ride the sandbar. A bridge joins the sandbar to the mainland. It is so low it rotates whenever a boat needs to go by.
When we returned to the Princess ship, we were once again entertained and serenaded by local musicians wearing colorful costumes. The drum group banged us enthusiastically out of the harbor as the locals waved blue flags. The Japanese really know how to make a cruiser feel welcome and appreciated.