The magic of Miyajima Island, Japan

The Floating Torii Gate of Miyajima Island

Just south of Hiroshima lies Miyajima island. Easily reached by local train in about 1 hour from the Hiroshima train station, and the ferry from the mainland is included in the JR railpass. The small island is best known for its giant torii gate, which at high tide seems to float on the water. It’s ranked as one of Japan’s three best views, so during daytime, expect plenty of day travellers. The official name of the island is Itsukushima, but it’s more commonly referred to as Miyajima, which is Japanese for “shrine island”. The main shrine is Itsukushima Shrine, and like the torii gate, it’s built over water. Many Japanese believe that Miyajima is “the home of god”.

Among the must visits on the island is the Itsukushima shrine. Located on the waterfront in direct view of the giant red torii gate floating on water. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it has a number of temples, including Toyokuni shrine with a five-storied pagoda and the Daiganji Temple – one of the three most famous Benzaiten temples of Japan. The island is also famous for its upper hill side cherry blossoms and maple leaf autumn foliage. Needless to say there is plenty to see and do for at least a couple of days if you really want to explore the island and all the hidden secrets it contains.

The whole island is dotted with shrines, and we had booked a cool traditional ryokan for the night. So, when we arrived in the afternoon, the biggest crowds had gone home. Our room for the night had traditional tatami mats on the floor, and futons straight on the mats. The afternoon was used to look at the torii gate, wander around, and find the small and excellent Miyajima Island Brewery a great find with craft beer and lovely food.

We had also been told that we needed to try okonomiyaki when at the island. This is kind of a savoury pancake, a speciality for the region. We found a small hole in the wall place and entered. In the small restaurant with 6 seats was mom at the huge grill plate, and daughter cutting vegetables. After using gestures, smiles and laughter, we hoped we had ordered the legendary pancake. And it did not disappoint, made in front of you, it’s pancake batter, noodles, cabbage, sweet soy sauce and lots of goodness galore. All built up until you have a huge stack of omnomnom set up in front of you. To watch mom create this delisg masterpiece in front of us was just a great experience. It was delish! So if you are in the area, it’s a must!

Next morning we got up bright an early and made our way by ropeway up to the top of mount Misen. At 500 meters above sea level, it gives a commanding view of the sea and inland beyond. There are several Buddhist structures near the peak. You can walk up the whole way, there are 3 hiking trails, but for us the walk from the ropeway all the way up to the top was good enough, it was a way from the cable car exit to the top itself. When at the top, we found out that there were several cool sites along the trail to the bottom, so we decided to walk all the way down again. We ended up having several peaceful sit-downs in shrines all alone, just looking at the effigies, pictures and feeling a peaceful spirit filling our souls. The way down was long, but worth it. The views from the decent were spectacular. Nearing the end of the trail you walk past, and it is a must to walk in and visit the spectacular Miyajima Misen Daisho-In. This is one of the most important temples of Shingon Buddhism. Located at the base of Mount Misen, on which the sects founder, Kobo Daisho, first began the practise of Buddhism on the island of Miyajima.

On our 9 day Japan for beginners, we visited Miyajima as part of our visits to Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kyoto. Miyajima Island is a must on any Japan itinerary, it is pure magic, an experience of a lifetime.

Categories:Japan, Travel

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