Getting to Miyama
Miyama is a wonderful place to retreat from the busy cities and get in touch with Japan’s cultural roots, which can be summed up in one word, Satoyama. When translated directly, Satoyama 里山 means mountain village, but it encompasses much more than that, it means to live sustainably, to live in harmony with and to appreciate all that nature provides.
As nice as that all sounds, Miyama is deep in the countryside and getting here presents some challenges. In this article, I will walk you through the process step-by-step, covering the most common methods of transport.
If you start your trip from Tokyo by bullet train you'll arrive at Kyoto JR station (JR stands for Japan Rail), and this is also the case if you’re coming from Osaka Kansai International Airport and many other places in Japan. Since most people will start their journey to Miyama from Kyoto JR station, I'll be focusing on this throughout the article.
Generally speaking, when coming to Miyama you will take the train from Kyoto JR to Sonobe JR station. From there, some places to stay will provide a shuttle service straight to your accommodation and others require that you make your own way to Miyama, which means changing trains in Sonobe JR and going on to Hiyoshi JR. Then you will take a bus from Hiyoshi JR station.
Let’s go through each step of the journey one by one.
Kyoto JR station is huge and can be quite daunting. It takes at least 10 minutes to get from one side of the station to the other, and if you are dragging a lot of heavy luggage it might take 20 - so factor this in if you are coming on the bullet train, as it arrives on the opposite side of the station to the smaller trains that leave towards Sonobe JR and Hiyoshi JR.
Platforms 31, 32 and 33 are designated to the Sagano line, which goes to Nijo and Saga Arashiyama then on towards Sonobe and Hiyoshi stations. These platforms are on the north-west side of Kyoto station and are in a separate area from the main lines that go to Osaka and Nagoya, which are in the centre of the station.
All trains that leave from platforms 31, 32 and 33 will go towards Sonobe, but some stop short, so make sure you board a train that goes all the way to Sonobe; the destination and the stops each train will make are written on the electrical message board shown in the picture below.
If you are coming to Miyama from Osaka Kansai International Airport, take the Haruka Express to Kyoto station, which arrives and leaves from platform 30, next to platforms 31-33 where the Sonobe trains depart from. If you take the airport bus instead of the train you will end up with a long and difficult walk from the bus terminal, which is just south of Kyoto station.
If you are arriving by bullet train go through the Shinkansen (bullet train) central transfer gate, go up the escalator just outside that gate. Then walk along the walkway above the train platforms to the opposite side of the station and follow signs for the Sagano line (platforms 31 and 32).
It will take you at least 10 minutes so allow plenty of time for this change.
If you are already staying in Kyoto City and heading to Miyama from there, you could arrive at Kyoto JR station from any of the dozens of entrances. It would be far too complex to cover them all, but once inside you should head for the north-west side of the station where you'll find the signs for the Sagano line and platforms 31 and 32.
Once you find the right platforms and board the right train it will take around 30 minutes to get to Sonobe by express and 45 by the local train, which stops at more places en route.
If you are being picked up at Sonobe station by your accommodation provider, they will be waiting for you at the turnstile. If you are going on to Hiyoshi station you will need to change trains at Sonobe (going in the Fukuchiyama direction), it’s not a big station and only has four platforms so this is not too difficult.
Please note that no express trains stop at Hiyoshi, so you'll need to change trains at Sonobe if you take the express.
There are one or sometimes two trains every hour departing from Sonobe to Hiyoshi and the journey only takes 10 minutes. Some trains arriving at Sonobe will already have the connecting Hiyoshi train on the next platform, in which case all you need to do is walk across from one side to the other like this:
However, not all trains coming from Sonobe will have the connection waiting as you arrive, so you might have to wait for 20 minutes or even more for your connection, depending on the time of day.
You can ask the staff at the turnstile and they will understand “Hiyoshi” and point you in the right direction.
Once you arrive in Hiyoshi, the bus service that runs to Miyama's thatched village (Kayabuki no Sato) is in front of the station and all Miyama buses leave from bay 4 - the number is written on the tarmac behind the bus.
Unfortunately there is no English on the bus itself to indicate where it’s going, but if you say “Miyama” to the bus driver he or she will be able to tell you if it's the right bus or not.
Once you know you are on the right bus, tell the bus driver where you want to go or show him/her the name and address of your destination on your phone / ipad. The driver will then tell you when your stop comes up.
All in all, getting to Miyama from Kyoto should take around 90 minutes if you get your connections right. If there is an option for a shuttle service at your accommodation this will make things much easier.
It can be a bit of an adventure as everything is not written in English, which is fun if you are happy to step off the beaten path and improvise a little with methods of communication.
When traveling it always takes that little bit more effort to get authentic experiences and this is definitely the case with visiting Miyama.