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One day in Miyajima Island, Japan Review

One day in Miyajima Island, Japan Review

Miyajima Island is one of Japan’s top must-see destinations and I was finally visiting on my third trip to Japan. My one day trip consisted of early starts, a visit to the famous shrine, very long walks, money scares and too many photographs. Here’s a brief recap of my visit to Miyajima Island.

Getting to Miyajima Island

We left our hotel at around 8.00am to take a tram to Hiroshima station, a JR train ride to Miyajimaguchi station and a ferry to Miyajima island. The whole journey took less than an hour and was covered by our JR Kansai-Hiroshima pass except for the tram. I had wanted an earlier morning start on Miyajima, however the JR ferry schedule meant that I would need to leave the hotel around 6.00am and no pretty island is worth a 5am wake up call.

Need my sleep – photo by Timothy Meinberg

The ferry was a straightforward route that took around 10 minutes and was nowhere near as fancy as the Naoshima ferry; the boat had the standard plastic seating I expected and was a fast and efficient ride. There were no vending machines on this boat, but are you really that desperate for one that you couldn’t wait 10 minutes? 

No vending machines

After the ferry docked the race was on and we zoomed off towards Itsukushima shrine to beat the morning crowd. We were doing quite well and managed to not be distracted by the local deer as Nara had trained us to ignore them. However we failed at the final hurdle when I stopped to admire Itsukushima shrine’s floating torii gate out in the water.

JR Ferry
View from ferry terminal
Ignoring the deer
Walking towards Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine’s Great Torii Gate

It was the best weather we had of the trip with full sunshine, clear skies and no rain at all; perfect weather for taking photos of one of the most famous gates in the world.

Panorama

To be honest I don’t know many famous gates.

…okay after a quick search it turned out that there are quite a few famous gates in the world, it’s just that none of them look anything like Itsukushima shrine’s floating torii gate.

Why is it called the floating gate? Simply because it appears to float on water during high tide which was when we arrived. The bright red gate really popped when compared with the natural greens and blues of its surroundings.

Surrounding nature

Which just goes to show you should add water to any architectural feature to make it 100 times better; the shrine complex and its gate is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and several buildings are designated as National Treasures by the Japanese government.

Close up

It is possible to walk up to the gate during low tide and there are steps leading down to the sea bed to do so.

Steps to the sea bed
Steps towards the floating gate

The gate was at low tide in the late afternoon which offered an interesting alternative view; personally I found it slightly less beautiful with water marks and aggregates showing on the bottom of the gate.

Low tide

There was a couple who stayed far too long on the sea bed as the tide rose again and they eventually ended up on a rapidly shrinking island. We and several others were staring at them and wondering what they were up to.

Stranded couple

Eventually they made a run for it and splashed onto land again in a soggy manner. I didn’t know what I was expecting really; maybe for the man to dramatically carry her over the water? There was a lot of standing around for such a disappointing  ending.

Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine

Because we took time out for gate photography; by the time we’d arrived at the floating shrine itself there was already a queue despite how early we were. It was very manageable though and there was plenty of space in the large complex to accommodate the small crowd.

Entrance

It’s a beautiful structure constructed like a pier and in the past commoners had to pass through the red floating gate in boats before approaching the island.

Straight on view from Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima shrine was first constructed in 593, but the shrine in its current form is popularly attributed to the year 1168. The shrine is dedicated to three female Shinto deities with power over the seas and storms and Itsukushima literally translates to “island dedicated to the gods”; the island itself was considered to be a god.

In the past it was a pure Shinto shrine where commoners were not allowed to set foot on it for purification reasons and births and deaths weren’t allowed.

In fact to this day it is expected that pregnant women, the terminally ill and elderly leave for the mainland during critical moments.

So in a way it was just like Disneyland where no deaths are allowed.

Exactly the same – photo by Thomas Kelley

The view of the torii gate from the shrine was a very popular spot for photographs.

Crowded spot

We saw a few monks around, including during a traditional ceremony, but the shrine maidens were very much like ninjas and disappeared like lightning. It was pretty amazing really.

Monk in Prayer ceremony
Prayer Ceremony
Monks
More monks?

They were selling traditional rice paddles but I had no idea why; was it to make your rice spiritual? I guess if you are what you eat…

Special rice paddles

The building was very beautiful with the bright vermilion red paint and extremely steep bridge that would probably fail all the UK bridge design guidelines; it was very pretty though and it was a shame that I didn’t get a close-up view of the bridge at high tide.

View of bridge
Bridge at low tide

We ended up wandering though the complex to the exit leading to the beach nearby, which offered yet another different view of the red torii gate.

Homotsukan Treasure Hall and General Exploration

We visited the treasure hall near the beach since we’d bought the combo shrine and treasure hall ticket for 500.00 JPY / 3.32 GBP. It was very quiet in the hall during the morning and aside from ourselves there were only a handful of people admiring artefacts from around 900 years ago.

Treasure Hall area

All the exhibits were placed in one large room on the ground floor and this was one of those museums where you had to swap your shoes for slippers at the entrance. Unfortunately photographs weren’t allowed which I assumed was linked to preserving the exhibits; which consisted mostly of scrolls, armour, weapons and costumes. There were some English translations for the exhibits but this wasn’t consistent and it was a shame that there wasn’t some form of audio or human guide available.

Treasure Hall

I didn’t have much of an impression of the treasure hall except that it was compact and very dimly lit, but it may have become a more meaningful experience if I was more of a history buff or was with someone who could explain the significance of the exhibits.

Treasure Hall Entrance
Entrance to Exhibits

There was a temple complex next to the beach which we explored after the treasure hall.

External Temple View
View of Temple Complex

Afterwards we had a wander around the local walking paths passing Tahoto pagoda, deer and forestry to reach a very pretty viewpoint spot. I can’t tell you where this viewpoint was because it was all unplanned and my memory is poor, but there were so many nice spots on the island that I don’t think this is an issue.

Tahoto Pagoda
Pretty view but no idea where we were

I couldn’t stand being away from civilisation for too long and we went back towards the shrine direction to explore the town area. As it was later in the morning most of the shops were open and everything was a hive of activity. The tourists have truly landed and I was perfectly happy to join in by eating my way through town.

Five Storey Pagoda

There was a brief scare when we were looking for a free international cash machine and couldn’t locate a 7-11 on the island, but we found the tiniest 7-11 stall at the ferry station just before we were about board the ferry out of desperation in our cash search.

The lengths I will go for a 7-11…

What fools we were thinking that there’s an island on Japan without 7-11.

After grabbing some cash and trying a few snacks we finally started walking towards Mt. Misen.

Entrance towards Ropeway

Miyajima Rope-way

We were planning for the lazy route and were heading towards the bus stop heading to the Miyajima Rope-way. However I felt far too ashamed when I saw the long queue of families and OAPs at the bus-stop and ended up walking the route towards the Rope-way Station instead.

Choosing to walk

I wish I wasn’t such an upstanding member of society.

…in reality the buses were infrequent and I fancied a bit of fresh air.

Well anyways! The route was pretty, the queue for the Rope-way was long but fast and the ride up the mountain was very atmospheric.

The Rope-way only took us most of the way up the mountain and we spent a bit of time at the viewpoint spot next to the station looking over the surrounding waters.

Rope-way station at the top

We then made our way up to the peak, passing along a halfway point filled with temple structures, including a main hall housing an eternal flame.

Dramatic Monk
Stone indicating progress

When we reached the peak there was a surprisingly modern viewing platform with toilet facilities for visitors. The view was amazing and the fresh air even better.

Viewing Platform at the peak

There’s always one…

I then made the extremely brave (stupid) decision to hike down the mountain along the Daisho-in route as I figured it would be less strenuous than hiking upwards; unfortunately I didn’t take into account the effect walking down steep slopes would have on my knees and ankles.

The views were mostly worth it though and we passed through several dams, shrines and friendly hikers.

Obligatory view of gate from hike

By the time we arrived at Daisho-in temple I was a little broken, but there’s nothing that a hearty bowl of Unagi-don can’t fix.

After one last browse of the shops and surrounding area and a bit of ice cream we finally left the Island in the early evening.

Summary

Miyajima is an easy must-go destination to recommend for me. People might come for the beautiful shrine and its floating gate, but they’ll stay for the charming, if touristy, town and its abundant natural views.

Has this inspired you to visit Miyajima? Let me know via a like or comment below.

Details

Itsukushima Shrine

Website: http://visithiroshima.net/world_heritage/20th/itsukushima/

Address: 1-1 Miyajimachō, Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima 739-0588, Japan/〒739-0588 広島県廿日市市宮島町1-1

Opening hours: 6:30 to 18:00 (Mar to Oct 14) 6:30 to 17:30 (Jan to Feb, Oct 15 to Nov) 6:30 to 17:00 (Dec)

Cost: 300.00 JPY / 1.99 GBP (500.00 JPY / 3.32 GBP for combined entry with Treasure Hall)

Homotsukan Treasure Hall

Website: http://visithiroshima.net/things_to_do/attractions/museums/treasure_hall.html

Address: Shimonakanishichō-1-1 Miyajimachō, Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima 739-0588, Japan/〒739-0588 広島県廿日市市宮島町下中西町1-1

Opening hours: 8:00 to 17:00

Cost: 300.00 JPY / 1.99 GBP (500.00 JPY / 3.32 GBP for combined entry with Itsukushima Shrine)

Miyajima Rope-way

Website: http://miyajima-ropeway.info/english/

Address: Itsukushima, Miyajimachō, Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima 739-0588, Japan/Itsukushima, 宮島町 廿日市市 広島県 739-0588

Opening hours: 9:00 to 17:00

Cost: 1,000.00 JPY / 6.65 GBP (one way), 1,800.00 JPY / 11.96 GBP (round trip)

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