From Hiroshima, a short ferry ride of ten-minutes from Miyajimaguchi Pier (see below for information on access) takes you to the Island of Itsukushima or Miyajima. However, I took the forty-five-minute World Heritage Sea Route by Aqua Net ferry from Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to Miyajima. From a distance you can already see the iconic bright orange Torii gate in the blue waters of the sea against the backdrop of green mountains-it is almost a mythical beauty and quite simply divine!
Exiting the pier and out of the station, you will find signage to the Itsukushima Shrine and surrounding areas. You can easily walk everywhere here. The name “Itsukushima” means “island of worship” and from ancient times, every tree, rock and sand in the island was worshipped as god. It is an island often regarded by the locals as where the people and the gods live together. It is home to the other of Hiroshima’s World Heritage Site, the Itsukushima Shrine since 1996. The Itsukushima Shrine is an iconic shrine and is regarded as one of the “Three Views of Japan” along with Matsushimo Island and Amanohashidate, chosen by a 15th century scholar, Nihon Sankei. It is the only shrine in the world that is built on water and attracts visitors from all over the world.
- The Itsukushima Shrine
The Itsukushima Shrine was originally built in 593, by Saeki no Kuramoto, but the unique shrine that we see today, the one on water, was erected by Taira no Kiyomon, the first samurai who became the Daijo-Daijin, (the head of the imperial government), from the late Heian period. However, it is said that in 1571, the Main Hall of the Shrine was renovated, and the Torii gate was reconstructed by the Mori clan in 1875.
People from all over Japan come to the Itsukushima Shrine to pray for safety of the Seto Inland Sea because of its importance to the local economy, a practice that had existed since the late Heian period when Taira no Kiyomori came to worship at the Shrine and pay homage. It was and still is especially popular amongst fisherman and tradesmen who sail the Seto Inland Sea.
The first magnificent view that catches your attention is the iconic image of the huge vermilion gate, at high tide, partly in water, somewhat floating, full of elegance and style, where the tide sweeps beneath it and retreats in the distance. This Torii gate is situated about 200 meters offshore from the Main Shrine. Seeing it from the distance, somewhat feels that the floating Shrine is perfectly balanced with its surrounding nature. There is something soothing about the waters that surrounds it.
At low tide, you can get an up-close and personal experience with the Torii gate. You can walk up to the foot of the huge legs that seems to stand freely on the seabed. I was amazed to realise that the six pillars are also not buried in the seabed. It is 16 meters tall and weighs 60 tons. The thickness of the giant legs is astounding as is the remarkable craftmanship and engineering involved to ensure the structure stays balanced in water. The two huge legs or pillars is made from 600-year-old Camphor trees and are weighted down by their own weight and tons of stones inscribed with Buddhist sutras are inserted into the loop of the cross beams that form the roof of the gate. This is truly an amazing and remarkable structure, one that has to be seen to appreciate!
NB: Do not forget to get some pictures when you are out here at low tide 😊 and ensure you are using appropriate footwear when walking out to the Torii gate.
The Main Shrine is connected by beautiful, well-crafted architecture of corridors to the Marodo Shrine, Tenjin Shrine and the Noh Theatre Stage. It is worth taking your time to observe and admire the incredible architecture of this Shrine. The high stage in front of the Main Shrine is considered as one of Japan’s “Three Big Stages” along with the “Stone Stage” at Shitenno-ji Temple and Sumiyoshi “Grand Shrine” in Osaka.
The Itsukushima Shrine is a popular tourist attraction and it does seem crowded not just with tourists but also locals and school teenagers. Most arrive at high tide to view the Shrine in “floating” state which is great. They start making their way back to their hotel later in the afternoon. I would suggest that you stay on a little longer for the tide to lower, so you can walk up to the Torii gate to take a close look at the incredible engineering that it presents. I spent the whole day here in the Island, exploring the high tide opportunities first, then making my way up to Mount Misen to the Reikado Hall, then a walk around the shops and finally sitting down on a concrete bench to watch the sun slowly setting beyond the horizon.
- Mount Misen (弥山)
When you are in Miyajima, then a walk-up Mount Misen is a Must. The mountains have a powerful effect on people and is a popular hotspot of spiritual energy. It offers amazing scenery which makes it a place hard to forget. I can assure you, you will speak of your experiences here for many times with friends and family.
Mount Misen sits in the centre of Miyajima Island at 535m above sea level and is the highest peak in Miyajima. A Buddhist monk, Kukai (空海), also famously known as Kobo Daishi (弘法大師) who founded the Sangaku-Shinko faith, opened the mountain as an ascetic holy mountain site and the temple in 806. Since then, Mount Misen has been regarded as a sacred mountain, by the followers of the Sangaku-Shinko faith which basically refers to “mountain worship”. Along with Itsukushima Shrine, Mount Misen is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. There are many historical landmarks in this untouched virgin forest which I wanted to see.
To access the summit of Mount Misen, there is Momijidani Station, where you can take a ropeway and then walk to the summit, but this requires a transfer (see below: Access). It is said that the ropeway gondola gives you 360 degree panoramic view, coastal and sea view from every direction, islands dotting the Seto Inland Sea and mountain ranges fading into the distance. I can only imagine the amazing scenery this ride will project. Alternatively, there are several hiking routes up Mount Misen which you could consider but you need to be reasonably fit as it is a long steep hike. If you have a knee issue, then I would recommend that you take the ropeway. I had time to explore and opted to hike as I wanted to experience the energy which this mountain is known for and the opportunity to view the amazing beauty, observe the landmarks and the unique rocks along the way. There are three hiking routes:
- The Momiji Dani Route
- 5 km
- It’s a hike along the Momiji River
- 90 minutes to 2 hours
- The Daishoin Route
- 3 km
- Has long paved path, often referred to as the “Stone pavement of Prostitutes”, of about 2000 stone steps to visit Misen.
- 90 minutes to 2 hours
- The Omoto Route
- 2 km
- It’s a hike through Omoto Park. It is said that this hike takes you through Komaga Forest, the second largest forest in Misen, where there are 100 year old large fir trees grow.
- 5 hours
I opted for the Daishoin Route, one of the more popular routes. It was a steep hike of around 90 minutes, but the trails are beautiful. The stone steps certainly makes it easier but it gets really steep towards the end. It offers amazing panoramic views and I took many breaks, just to capture the awesomeness around me.
There is always someone else you pass, either they are quicker than you or are making their way back, and you do not feel alone here even if you are travelling solo. There is serenity and freshness in the air even when it was a hot day. People you pass, are friendly and we greet each other with a cheerie “konnichi-wa”. Some stop to ask if their photos be taken and some just try to keep up with you as you walk up.
The summit of Mount Misen itself is home to uniquely shaped rocks which are mysterious in themselves. My main attraction was the Reikado Hall, which you will find just before the summit. The summit itself is about 15 minutes climb from here, but steep.
- Reikado Hall
The Reikado Hall is associated with a Legend of Miracle – that a fire originally lit by Kobo Daishi himself as part of his religious training have been burning ever since, now for almost 1200 years.
It is this fire that was used to light the flame at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The water in the large kettle heated above the fire is believed to cure diseases.
There are plastic cups made available for you if you wish to try some. I did. The water is not clear as that of normal boiled water, but rather appeared and tasted more like tea. I am not sure if it has cured any of my illnesses, only time will tell 😊 You can also light a candle in respect of your wish. There are candles in various writings on them – for good health, prosperity, success or relationship. You choose the one that you wish and light them.
- Misenhondo Hall
This is a holy hall built on the former training site used by Kobo Daishi.
There were a number of climbers who did not continue on to the summit but used their time here to relax, enjoy the views and the unspoilt nature around them. I did not spend too much time here, perhaps just about half-an-hour, then the summit and off down to sea level to catch the low-tide beauty of the Itsukushima Shrine and the Torii gates and some “yaki-gaki”.
Useful information when considering Mount Misen:
- Suitable footwear, such as good hiking boots and clothing are important. Dress for the weather.
- The hike can take anything up to 2 hours, so take water or other fluids with you to keep you hydrated. Drink frequently but in small amounts.
- Take time to rest frequently, not just to build up your stamina but also to wander in the picturesque scenery which you will come to.
- The trail is bathroom free, so a visit to the bathroom before the hike is recommended.
- Beware of snakes, after-all, this is a virgin forest! I did not see any on my hike.
- The ropeway station is a ten-minute walk from Itsukushima Shrine or a 20-minute walk from the Miyajima ferry pier. The ride up the mountain takes 15 minutes and requires a transfer of ropeways along the way.
- The Momijidani Line ride up is 10 minutes with a 1-minute intervals.
- The Shishiiwa Line ride up is 4 minutes with 5 to 15 minutes intervals.
- From the upper station at Shishi-iwa, it is a 30 minute walk up to the summit along a steep hiking trail. The Misen Hondo and Reikado buildings are located along the trail, about 5 minutes before the summit.
- Ropeway times: Going up – 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Down – 8:20 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Miyajima’s Main Street
- Omotesando Shopping Street
This 350-meter long main street of Miyajima is a market street like many others in Japan, and is dedicated to restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. It is the busiest place in Miyajima.
There are stalls selling food to enjoy as you walk along. Miyajima is also famous for its rice spatulas made of wood, called shakushi. You will see the largest Shakushi in the world, 5 meters long here.
Miyajima is popular for its Momiji-manju cakes and its oysters, the yaki-gaki (grilled oysters).
The Momiji-manju cakes are shaped like maple leaf and is filled with red sweet bean (anko). There are also other varieties such as custard fillings. These Momiji-manju are found all over the island and in the shops along the Omotesando Street, it is made fresh. You can buy some to take back with you or just try them when they are warm and delicious.
It is quite acceptable here to eat your way around Miyajima as store fronts serve you with choices of meat and other delights on sticks and wrapped in paper.
The oysters are a signature dish of the island, harvested daily from its shores. They have been cultivated in Hiroshima Bay for over 400 years. They are fresh, delicious and pretty much available at all the restaurants in Miyajima in various choices-grilled, steamed or deep fried, topped in udon dishes and okonomiyaki. More recently, Miyajima has become popular for its yaki-gaki, (grilled oysters), although they have been a staple dish for the fishermen and women who put in long hours on the water. Walking along the Omotesando Street, you can feel the smoky air where the street vendors grill the oysters to perfection in a quick and easy fashion. The oysters here are small, a little sweet and has low liquid content. The low liquid content means that they do not shrink much upon cooking, therefore they need to be cooked fast, which makes them perfect for the grill on high heat. The high heat ensures that the oysters are grilled to perfection, charring the shells and giving the oysters a smoky finish. Absolutely perfect and goes well with some sake.
The deer of Miyajima
As you may know, deer are deemed sacred in Japan. However, the island’s deer do seem a little more aggressive and authentically wild than the ones I have noted in Nara, probably because they can retreat to the mountains for natural food which requires them to use their natural instincts.
Though they are cute, be aware that they can sneak up behind you at the sight of paper or tissue. Yes, Miyajima’s deer eat paper! A deer ate the wrapper to my Momiji-manju cake when I was sitting on the bench watching the sunset!
As the day draws to late afternoon and the evening breeze sets in, you will note the crowds heading back and the place becomes quieter, especially after 5 pm.
As the sun sets into the evening, the sea-front becomes a mesmerising scene with stone lanterns lit and the Torii gate illuminated with floodlights.
The scene is one which you have seen in many photos. Unfortunately, I ran out of battery and I could not capture this image for you, but it has left me with a lasting memory of Miyajima Island.
For Itsukushimi Shrine, please click here for pricing and opening times.
Getting to Miyajima from Hiroshima
I shall just list two options here as I think these were the easiest, quickest and gives you the opportunity to experience more of Hiroshima.
- Aqua Net ferry from Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park to Miyajima-World Heritage Sea Route (45 minutes)
This is the fastest and direct route to Miyajima without complicated connections.
- The boat goes through the Motoyasu River and then into Hiroshima Bay.
- The boat passes slowly when going through the river, giving you the opportunity to go on deck and enjoy the views of Hiroshima City
- When the boat comes into the Bay, it picks up speed and no deck viewing is allowed.
Prices: One-way and Round-trip
One-way: Adult (12+) 2000 Yen
Child (6-11) 1000 Yen
Round-trip: Adult (12+) 3600 Yen
Child (6-12) 1800 Yen
- Round-trip ticket is valid for 2 days
- Railway Route: Miyajima Pier to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (Atomic Bomb Dome)
- Take the ferry at Miyajima Pier in Miyajima to Miyajimaguchi Pier in Hiroshima. The ferry ride is 10 minutes.
- A short, 1-minute walk from Miyajimaguchi Pier, is the tram station. Board the tram and get off at Genbaku-Dome Mae stop (Atomic Bomb Dome). This journey is 50 minutes.
- From here it is 1-minute walk to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
Ferry ride: Adults – 180 Yen / Child – 90 Yen