Ago Bay 0

The Kansai region is visited by millions of tourists every year, and while cities like Osaka and Kyoto are well set up to receive the large numbers of visitors, it can still be overwhelming to spend more than a few days in these bigger cities. Many visitors often overlook some of the less crowded areas of Kansai in favor of popular tourist destinations, for guests who are brave enough venture off the beaten path, a short trip to the nearby coastline offers a lovely escape from the crowds and the opportunity to see beautiful, more rural parts of Japan.

I recently took a trip toMie Prefecture via the Kintetsu Railway to visit some lesser known areas in Kansai and places famous among Japanese tourists, but not well known to visitors from abroad. I began my trip from Osaka Namba Station and hopped on the Shimakaze Luxury Sightseeing Train. The train runs twice daily from Osaka Namba Station and terminates at KashikojimaStation.

See the Sights in Luxury 

Japan is a popular destination for train enthusiasts and boasts some of the fastest, cutest and most original train designs in the world. Coming to Japan from America, where I had never once been on a train, I sometimes fail to see the appeal.  I can appreciate the punctuality of Japanese trains and the frequency, and I can certainly appreciate the speed of the Shinkansen, but it wasn’t until riding the Shimakaze that I was able to fully appreciate the idea of a luxury train.

The seats were spacious and equipped with back massagers, and the windows were large, allowing guests to gaze at the passing countryside. Occasionally the conductor would announce landmarks as we passed them, giving a brief overview or history of the area.

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The train was equipped with lockers for luggage, private rooms, and a café with seats facing the windows. Guests could choose between private cars, individual seats, or group seating options in advance. Train enthusiasts could buy special Shimakaze souvenirs, and each passenger was given a commemorative postcard, with the date of travel stamped on the back. While travelers looking to visit the coast from Osaka Namba Station can get there by local train, the Shimakaze is a more comfortable and more interesting alternative.  If you are interested in buying tickets you should purchase them in advance. Take a look at their   English website  as well as the   online booking website.

Ride the Train to the Last Stop 

I rode the Shimakaze train from Osaka Namba Station to Toba Station, just a few stops before the train terminates at Kashikojima Station. If you are interested in riding the train until the last stop, you should know that Kashikojima is a quaint town located on the Ago Bay. The town offers guests a range of outdoor opportunities such as cruises (one of them on a Spanish-themed ship), beautiful views of the surrounding area, and what I hear is a wonderful aquarium.

I didn’t have the time to stop in Kashikojima for long—although I would have loved to see the aquarium—instead I stopped at Toba and rented a car in order to make it to my seafood lunch reservation at Hachimankamado.

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Visit the Woman Diver's Hut in Toba 

One of the highlights of my trip was visiting the Amagoya, or Ama hut, in Toba called Hachiman Kamado to taste the freshly caught seafood they prepared. As I arrived I was shown my basket of fresh seafood before being ushered into a small rectangular room. Seats lined the walls and two large grills occupied the center, the coals burning brightly in the dimly lit room. Women dressed in traditional Ama costumes sat around each grill on cushions as they prepared meals for the guests.  Through the window on the far side of the room, I could see the ocean, which lent an authenticity to the experience.

We were served a mixture of shellfish as it came off of the grill, as well as sashimi to start. The women spent time visiting guests and answering questions about their lives as divers.

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Want to Try?

Ama means “woman of the sea” and they practice a traditional method of fishing that has been around for generations. There are only around 2,000 Ama divers left in Japan and most of them live in the Iseshi area. The women free dive in the mornings to catch fresh shellfish and rock lobsters then warm up in the huts after their dive. In the afternoons, they grill fresh seafood for guests looking to enjoy a unique experience.  If you want to visit Hachiman Kamado, check their    website in advance and make a reservation. Upon your arrival at Toba Station, they also have a pick-up service for free if needed.



Take in Scenic Views of Ago Bay  

After lunch, I made my way to the Yokoyama Visitors Center and followed the short uphill trail to the observatory which took me about 30 mimnutes by car (if you don’t plan to rent a car, you need to take a train.) From the top I was able to admire a view of Ago Bay. The ocean seemed to have sprouted fingers as it made its way inland; the emerald green landscape provided a beautiful contrast to the sapphire water.

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The hike only took about 10 minutes and was not very strenuous. The observatory is not too far from Hachiman Kamado either, so it is definitely worth the trip if you happen to be in the area. 

Stay at a Local Bed and Breakfast   

After returning the rental car I made my way to Ugata Station, where the host of the local Asunaro Minshuku (a Japanese style bed and breakfast) picked us up.  As we pulled into the driveway, he pointed down a nearby road explaining that the ocean was only a few minutes’ walk from the house before parking the car in the gravel driveway. 

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I was running a bit late so he quickly showed me to my room and gave me a brief tour of the facilities before ushering me into a separate room for dinner.  

The meal was beautifully prepared and featured a range of different types of seafood, all locally caught and prepared in-house. The Iseshi area is well-known for its Ise-ebi, an especially large prawn, which the hosts of the minshuku had fried in a tempura batter. 

After dinner, I decided to take a walk to the ocean and the minshuku hosts were gracious enough to offer me a flashlight before leaving. I didn’t venture too far, although I would have loved to explore the beach nearby. The moon was full and I sat and enjoyed the sounds of the waves for awhile before heading back to my room and going to sleep. 


Kintetsu Rail Pass 

If you are visiting Iseshi from Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto or Nara, it might be beneficial to buy the Kintetsu Rail Pass. The pass allows travelers unlimited rides on the Kintetsu Line as well as the Iga Tetsudo Line for five days. For more information on how to buy the pass, or how it works, check out their    website here.

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RYANN OVERBAY 

Originally from Seattle and currently living in Japan for four years now, working as a writer and an English teacher. The Kansai area is one of my favorite places to visit in Japan because I think it offers so much to do and see. I especially love to get away from the crowds and visit places that are less traveled. I hope my experience will let you get a feel for the country and the unique mixture of traditional and modern culture !