The thrilling Tojinbo Cliffs

This day is special to me, today I can safely proclaim to be the second Indian to visit all 47 prefectures of Japan. The first Indian to explore all 47 prefectures is obviously my wife Mani san. I had been wanting to visit the cliffs since the day I witnessed the thrilling cliffs of Sandanbeki in Wakayama. My JR Pass was going to expire soon, so I made up my mind to drop in at Tojinbo today.

Tojinbo is a series of basaltic cliffs located within the Echizen-Kaga Quasi-National Park in Sakai, northern Fukui, bordering Ishikawa. Pronounced Toujinbou, the rugged, precipitous cliffs stretch for over a kilometer, and is designated as a precious natural monument.

I was a bit tired traveling more than 2000 km in the last couple of days. From Nara, it was a leisurely 40 minute ride to Kyoto. The trees on the hills along the route had started turning red with the advent of fall.

At Kyoto, I took the Thunderbird Limited Express to Fukui. Even though the Thunderbird is not a Shinkansen, the interiors are nothing less than one.

The train ride to Fukui goes along a hilly region and for most part of the journey we were traveling inside tunnels. It had started to rain strongly and I was keeping my fingers crossed hoping for a better weather at Fukui.

I reached Fukui at 1 pm. The weather here was much better. The tourist information booth had been shifted to a new place because of renovations. It took me a bit of time searching for the relocated office. Once I was there, the lady at the counter told me to catch the train to Awaraonsen Station and take a bus from there. There is another way using the Echizentetsudo-Mikuni-Awara Line to Mikuniminato Station, but it’s not a JR line. Both routes cost similar and take up almost similar time but I chose to go to Awaraonsen as it was a more preferred route.

At Awaraonsen, just outside the station is a bus ticket counter where one can purchase a round trip ticket to Tojinbo. One can save a few Yen by buying the round trip ticket that costs ‎¥1000. One way ticket to Tōjinbō costs ‎¥750 each way.

The bus for Tojinbo leaves every hour so I had to kill some time at the station. I wandered around the place but its a small town with nothing interesting around the station. There is a Seven-Eleven store inside the station premises, and that’s it.

The bus arrived at 2.40 pm. The cliffs are popular with foreigners and the bus stops are announced in English as well as Japanese.

It was about 3.30 pm by the time I reached the Tojinbo bus stop. The cliffs are at a 5 minute walk from the bus stop.

It was a breezy evening as I walked along the cobblestone path towards the cliffs. The path is lined on both sides by many omiyage (souvenir) shops and restaurants. The restaurants serve some delicious baked seafood in the restaurants. One can also enjoy the Squid Ink Ice cream, a specialty found only in the Tojinbo area.

At the end of the path, the view opens up to the wide Japan Sea. Some wooden benches are set up here so the less adventurous guests can enjoy the breathtaking scenery right from here.

My first thoughts were that it was somewhat smaller than the Sandanbeki Cliffs but more widespread. I climbed down towards one of the protruding cliffs. The rocks in Tojinbo are named from their shapes such as Sandan Rocks (three-layer rocks), Rosoku Rocks (candle rocks), Byobu Rocks (wind wall rocks), and Oike (big lake).

The rocks are easy to maneuver through. I found myself a comfortable spot at the edge of the 25-meter-tall cliff near the Oike. These magnificent andesite rocks appear like hexagonal pillars growing out of the sea.

In between a boat would come inside the lagoon called Tojinbo Oike, carrying tourists wishing to explore the magnificent rocks from the sea. Far away, I noticed the Oshima Island and the red bridge leading to the island. There is a cruise service available, which takes about 30 min to commute between Tojinbo and Oshima. Oshima is one of the biggest islands in the Echizen coast.

I spent around an hour lost in the beautiful moment from the edge of the cliff looking into the vast vividly blue-green sea. In winter one can observe a phenomenon called “Nami-no-hana,” or flowers of waves. They occur when the waves are caught in the reefs and churn into bubbles that the violent winds then fan up in to the air. I had seen those at Sendanbaki, but today the waves were at peace. Eroded by the raging waves, the sea had made inroads along the coast creating small caves.

There were so many tourists walking up and down the steep rugged cliffs, enjoying the spectacular scenery. Some were extremely adventurous, venturing to the edges. I captured this photo of a girl looking down the cliffs.

For some reason I felt something was wrong about her. She went further down towards a lonely side of the cliff and sat down at the very edge. I could tell she was crying. She sat there listening to something on her phone.

Tojinbo cliffs also have a dark side – many Japanese come here each year to end their lives by jumping off the high cliffs, throwing themselves onto the jagged rocks.

Local legend has it that Tojinbo, a Buddhist monk was pushed out off the cliff to death by his fellow monks because of misbehavior. His angry spirit didn’t leave the sea and it had always been incredibly stormy on the day of his death that falls on 5th April. Every year his spirit is soothed by the prayers of a master monk so the waves subside. It is said his ghostly spirit has been drawing many depressed souls to commit suicide from these cliffs.

I hung around beside her for about 30 min after which she, to my relief, got up and went back towards the shops area.

The sun was gradually descending by 5.30 pm. Far away a fishing boat was sailing in the glittering waters.

I went down towards the east side where a series of steps led right down to the base of the cliffs.

I felt the cold water of the Japan Sea in my hands. In monsoon the waves at Tojinbo are more dramatic. From down there, I was awed by the surreal and eerie look of the cliffs with its gigantic columnar joint of basalt.

From the base of the cliffs I took some shots of the sea with the sun gradually descending behind thick clouds.

I wanted to catch the sunset, but unfortunately my last bus back was scheduled for 6.21 pm so I had to leave before the sun actually set. The bus stop was desolate. The bus arrived on time. It was carrying a couple of passengers. On the ride back, luckily, I was able to catch a glimpse of the sunset from the bus.

I reached Awaraonsen only to find the next Thunderbird express to Kyoto was an hour away. So I caught another train and went to Fukui. I grabbed some snacks at the station and waited for the train there. In a couple of hours I was back in Nara.

Tojinbo is a beautiful place with spectacular cliffs. It’s a great place to relax and witness the sunset. I had a wonderful time hiking up the cliff. It is sad to hear about suicides though.

The towering Sandanbeki Cliffs

Today I ride out of Nara on my own for the first time. I am headed for the beautiful town of Shirahama in Wakayama Prefecture.

I woke up early and walked down to the JR Nara station at 7 am. In the early morning, the streets were devoid of people. Walking past the closed stores, it took me about half an hour to reach the JR Station. I activated my 21 day JR Pass at the ticket counter and walked down to the platform. The JR Pass allows me access to unlimited rides on all JR Trains across Japan. I have a long list of amazing places on my bucket list that I hope to visit over the next 21 days.

Nara to Shirahama

Google Maps is a great help for looking up train schedules in Japan. To go to Wakayama I had to first catch a local to Tennoji and from there change to an express train to Shirahama. The next train was scheduled after a few minutes. I grabbed a melon bread from a 7-Eleven store at the station and waited for the train. The wait wasn’t long and the train arrived in a few minutes. The local train chugged on to the platform, and luckily it was pretty empty. I grabbed a window seat. The ride to Tennoji is about 40 minutes. As the train sped along, I finished off the melon bread, watching the lovely countryside.

At Tennoji it took a bit of hunting around to find the correct platform for the train bound for Shirahama. Without the knowledge of Japanese, it can be tough finding the correct platforms but Mani had taught me well.

I caught the 9:21 am Kuroshio Limited Express to Shingu. There are no Shinkansen lines on this route and limited express trains are the fastest way to travel. The Kuroshio Limited Express does not stop anywhere before Wakayama Station. Thereafter it stops at a few important ones, before reaching Shirahama in about 2 hours.

It was a lovely sunny day with blue skies and I passed through some beautiful countryside. After passing through Wakayama Station, the train runs almost parallel to the coastline and the it passed by numerous cliffs.

I reached Shirahama at 11.28 am. I had done my research and walked directly to the tourist information center. At the center, I explained to the lady sitting at the counter in English that I needed the full day bus pass. I also told her about the places I wished to go to. She fished out a map and drew me a route that was best for me to follow. She also pointed me towards the bus ticket office which is just outside to the left of the Shirahama Station.

The bus pass cost me ¥1100. There are times when I am not able to fully utilize the cost of these passes, but it gives me a sense of relief in case I make any mistake anywhere, the pass saves me the blushes. The bus to Sandanbeki Cliffs was leaving in a few minutes. I went forward and boarded the bus. A handful of chirpy Chinese tourists were also on the bus.

We reached Sandanbeki Cliffs in half an hour. On the way we passed the exquisite Shirahama beach. The bus dropped us off at the Sandanbeki Cliffs stop.

Sandanbeki Cliffs

From the bus stop one has to walk for a few minutes towards the ocean to reach the towering cliffs. In the beautiful weather, a fat cat was lazing in the soft sun as I walked towards the ocean. At the end of the street was a narrow gravel path. 

After a 10 minute walk I was at the rocky cliffs overlooking the vast blue Pacific. Sandanbeki translates to Three Step Cliff. There are 3 protruding rocks in the shape of a dinosaurs claws. The face of the 50 meter high cliffs extend up to 2 km from south to north near the town of Sandan.

Sitting down on the rocks I gazed at one of nature’s spectacular marvels – the ocean’s blue current unleashing wave after wave and sending them crashing up against the breath-taking cliffs.

The cliffs are made up of tertiary rocks and there is no danger of them collapsing down into the ocean. The rocks are very similar in nature to the ones I came across at Hampi in South India. So I went forth towards the edge to have a better view over the ocean. These were enormous cliffs and it was dizzying standing at the edge. Some people had made their way down towards the lower cliffs. Not sure how they got there but I was alone and wasn’t going to try any heroism on that day. The rocks are inviting but also deadly if you fall in. I found a nice viewpoint and took some pictures. The waves were relatively calm on the day. I have seen pictures of the cliffs, whence on stormy days, the waves would lash into the top of the cliffs.

Sandanbeki Doukutsu and the legend of the Kumano Pirates

Hidden at the bottom of one of these three cliffs is Sandanbeki Doukutsu, a cave where Kumano pirates of the Heian Era (794-1185) once hid their boats. The story goes that in the second half of the 8th century, during the reign of Kanmu-tenno, the sea was raided by a pirate called Tagamaru. His bunch of pirates would appear out of the blue, raid a ship and then disappear mysteriously into the sea. They were referred to as kaizoku, which literally means “sea robbers.” However they were not merely robbers and played an important role during the conflicts between the Taira and Minamoto clans in the late Heian Era. They used to operate around Kumano Onigashiro and the cave at Sandanbeki was suspected to be one of their hideouts. However looking at it, I seriously doubt a boat can make its way safely near those jagged rocks on a stormy day.

Nearby there is an underground limestone cave, which is said to have been the hideaway for the pirate ships. The cave is located at sea level and can entered via an elevator. The elevator will take you 36 m below ground to the pirate’s hiding spot. The cave also features a museum. While the museum is more or less a presentation of legends and Medieval weaponry, the cave itself makes for a unique experience. But I was short on time and I had to miss out.

I walked down to the other side of the cliffs. There is a safer viewpoint here, surrounded by a wooden fence. A number of seats are placed for the visitors where one can sit and watch the towering cliffs, created by the erosion of the waves. The view of the tide hitting the surface of the rock face makes one admire the strength of the cliffs that have withstood the brunt of those raging waves all these years and still stand tall to this day.

Beneath the platform or viewpoint there are some bushes and trees growing on the rocks. The much higher cliffs were to my right. From here I could feel how dangerously I had been standing a few minutes before on the edge of the cliff.

It was afternoon by the time I had my fill of the place. My next stop was the Shirahama Beach  so I walked down to the bus stop. Unfortunately, the bus was not scheduled to come around before an hour, so I started walking down towards the beach. The bus had passed it on the way up and it didn’t feel very far away.

The two kilometers of steep cliffs and the raging waves striking the cliffs are certainly exciting and memorable. Photographs can never tell the emotions I felt standing on the steep cliff. I hope they can inspire some of you to reach out and witness what I have. If you have the chance to tour Wakayama, do not miss this unique experience.

Thanks for reading. Leave me a comment or follow my story as I walk down to the white sands of Shirahama Beach.