For most visitors, a trip to Kyoto Prefecture means a trip to Kyoto City. Given the abundance of cultural treasures within the city limits and the fact that most people face time and budget constraints, it's the rare tourist who can get out and see what lies beyond the ancient capital's teeming temples.

Yet Kyoto is not just a city but also a prefecture that extends across to the Sea of Japan. Located less than two hours from central Kyoto City, the port city of Maizuru is a world away from the Kyoto of popular imagination. Those weary of temples, shrines, and rock gardens and in search of an offbeat "Kyoto" adventure, a sense of recent, not ancient, history, and a taste for Cold War spy novels may find this port city on the Sea of Japan an enticing day trip.

Maizuru is more than another beautiful seaside town; it's home to the closest Japanese Navy base to North Korea. There's a slight film-noir feel to this place. Until about seven years ago, the police box in front of Higashi Maizuru Station had a poster up asking people to report sightings of strange men in rubber rafts landing on the beach in the dead of night. During the Cold War, North Korean military uniforms, complete with photos of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in the front pockets, once washed up on beaches a few miles north of Maizuru. Even today, fisherman occasionally report seeing strange lights along the beaches or boats without lights at night running into the many coves around Maizuru harbor.