Miyajima in the Hiroshima prefecture of Japan is a spiritual place with a handful of gorgeous shrines and temples that will impress even the hardest to please travellers. It also has a wonderful small street full of local specialties and beautiful snacks and a mountain with breathtaking views and a romantic manju making course. It’s a fantastic side trip from Hiroshima or even Osaka or Kyoto as it is quite easy to get to from all these major cities. Visit my previous Japan trip post to find out about transport and the wonderful ryokan that we stayed in.
|Map courtesy of www.japan-guide.com|
As I mentioned in my earlier post, Miyajima is considered as one of the top 3 views of Japan. The scenery that claims such high praise is the floating torii gate at Itsukushima Shrine. It is a Shinto shrine which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and many of the buildings are considered Japanese National Treasures. When we saw the shrine on the first day, it was already late afternoon and it was high tide. It meant we couldn’t walk out to the famous gate to get a closer glimpse of its glory.
Luckily, our friendly ryokan lady owner informed us of the times of low tide every day so that we were able to walk out onto the ground that otherwise would have been submerged in the ocean. As you can see, seeing the torii gate is free and is what most people visit the island for.
As we walked closer, I saw a fascinating sight. Usually people throw money into ponds or other places with water as a means to attain good fortune. But there were coins stuck amongst the barnacles on the legs of the gate. Some were so disfigured that they must have been there for a very long time, submerged in seawater every day when the tide comes in and others were clearly very new. I saw young people attempting to stick their own coins on but I just couldn’t find a space for mine. Ok I lied. I didn’t really try to find space, instead of doing that, I preferred to photograph the memorable images of others doing so. It was a lot more valuable than just good fortunes. 🙂
There were locals crouched around the muddy shores, trying to find fresh edible sea creatures. They were everywhere and it was so interesting to watch. What I didn’t like was the mud on my shoes, it was lucky though that I had worn boots, Yuye’s shoes were soaked! It was stunning though how the shore disappears into the ocean that separates Hiroshima city and Miyajima. As you can see from the photo below, the buildings you can see across the ocean is in fact Hiroshima. It only takes mere minutes to get across to the island from the mainland via one of the ferries.
We had to watch our feet as we trudged through all the mud and water as little sea creatures are prone to being trampled on by careless tourists.
The shrine itself was stunning. For 300yen admission, you walk through intricate hallways of blazing orange wood pillars and during high tide, you really feel like you’re walking inside a floating shrine which is on fire! Itsukushima Shrine isn’t the biggest shrine we had visited during the trip and there weren’t many people at the time but this all contributed towards that very sacred experience we had.
I believe most of the buildings in the shrine complex had been repainted over time but this little part of it was kept in its original state. I loved the red but also awed at the natural wood colour.
This bridge was not open for walking on, nor would I have wanted to. The water worn legs didn’t look particularly stable.
We were also told by the ryokan owner that the torii gate and the shrine would be lit up at night, between the times of 8:30pm and 11pm. After dinner, Yuye and I ventured out into the freezing cold night to capture the amazing view. For those who wish to take close up shots at night, there is a boat ride available that takes you right up to and between the torii gate during the illumination, visit this site for more information, although the company websites are both in Japanese.
Daisho-in Temple (大聖院)
Daisho-in Temple is a hidden gem and is located at the foot of Mt Misen, the tallest peak on Miyajima. Founded in the year 806, Daisho-in is the most significant Buddhist temple on the island and the oldest and houses some very amazing halls.
The view on the way to the site is also beautiful and tranquil, a fantastic stroll for those of you wanting to escape from the heavy crowds.
The first thing you pass as you enter the Daisho-in is the Niomon Gate. It stands tall and grand on the path up into the temple.
Just outside of the gate is the holy water where you wash your hands away of all impurities. It was an entirely different experience with flower petals floating on the water.
It’s a truly fascinating experience when you see deer (which Miyajima is also famous for) and little cute statues together.
Maniden Hall (pictured below) is actually very tall which you can’t really see clearly in this photo. I love the intricate art-like carvings on the sides of the building. They look like dragons to me.
When you reach the top of the stairs inside the temple, you’ll come across a cave that according to japan-guide.com houses 88 icons that represent temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. There were what seemed like hundreds of illuminated lanterns hanging off the ceiling and provides the only light inside the cave. It was a truly amazing sight.
Amongst all the holy statues in the premises, there was a little one of Anpanman standing by the entrance of a pagoda. I had no idea before this that Anpanman even had anything to do with Buddhism! It was certainly a surprise and a very cute one.
Other photos of the temple are below. Isn’t it just beautiful?
Daisho-in Temple is free to enter and is open between 8am and 5pm.
Momijidani Park and Mt Misen
Miyajima is famous for the autumn leaves that are scattered all over the island. The most spectacular would be in Momijidani Park where the name of the park means ‘revenue of maples’. It’s quite unfortunate that we went to Miyajima in Winter but that couldn’t have been helped and we would have paid quite a bit higher for accommodation I think if it was autumn.
On the way to Mt Misen, we walked through Momijidani Park and enjoyed the tranquil cold morning that was so silent if not for the occasional bird chirping and leaves rustling in the wind. We passed one of the best hotels on the island – Iwaso – stunning for sure but very expensive, it was definitely over my budget so that’s why I went with Ryoso Kawaguchi.
Everywhere in Japan, there are hidden little temples or shrines if you look around you. It was no different in Miyajima as we passed a cute shrine high up on the foot of the mountain. We didn’t climb all the way up there though because we were conserving energy for our huge hike up Mt Misen.
You can either take a bus up to the Momijidani Station where the cable car awaits to take you up to the mountain or walk to the station through Momijidani Park. I would totally recommend walking there as it was a short stroll and was a beautiful one. You can also purchase the return ticket for the cable cars at stores in town or at the actual station, the price is 1000yen one way or 1800yen return and the mountain is open between 9am and 4:30pm and this time varies with different seasons. If you’re very fit and adventurous (which we were not unfortunately) you can climb up or down the mountain entirely through one of the few hiking tracks. Refer to the above map for the tracks available. I believe the whole way should take about 1.5 to 2 hours to get to the top.
From the station, you must take a ropeway and a cable car up. Even then, it was still an intense half an hour climb to the peak. It was Yuye’s first time (again!) in a cable car and it was such a funny sight. It made the slightly long ride quite a bit more interesting, along with the beautiful scenery outside the car.
After we got off the second cable car, we arrived at a cafe. This is where we spent the next hour, making our romantic and cute red bean momiji manju. Many couples had done this before us and I can vouch that it is an activity not to be missed if you’re climbing the mountain. What we did was give the lady at the counter a time that we would like to make the manju (which was immediately) and we were slotted in. The whole process took around 20 minutes with about a 5 minute instruction briefing at the beginning. Even if you don’t understand Japanese, the process is simple enough to understand. For just 500yen per couple (or 300yen per person if not a couple), you get to make 8 manju. I thought it was a great price for a bit of delicious fun.
I didn’t make any as I was busy with taking the photos but Yuye did a good job! The filling was a bit too sweet though but that was expected of red bean. We only managed to eat 3 or so at the mountain and the rest were taken away to enjoy at the ryokan. The cafe even had a sacred fire lighting ceremony thing which apparently will bring good luck to love when the fire is lit. The trick to the flame lighting is that two people have to press the trigger on each side of the stand at exactly the same time for the flame to light. The mountain was seemingly very suitable for couples.
Apart from the cool cafe, the view was also stunning. Not as stunning as the top of course.
The hike up the hill was not easy. The labels clearly said half an hour, which was roughly correct, but it was a steep and constant climb. We huffed and puffed and regretted at some stage but reaching the top was just striking. I was glad once I got there that I had in fact made that climb. I wasn’t happy though once we had to descend again. There were numerous shrines along the way which you can rest at and take in the scenery over the cliffside and right on the top at over 500 metres above sea level, there is a look out, a shop and…deer! I wonder if the deer ever go down the mountain?
With my big 18-200mm lens, I could see Itsukushima Shrine, the 5 story pagoda and even Hiroshima! What a fantastic view that was. We were so exhausted after the hike that all we could think about was food!
Main shopping strip and food
There is only really one street that contains most of the stores and that street links the pier to Itsukushima Shrine. It was also conveniently located just one block away from our ryokan. Although there weren’t many stores on the island, the ones available were fantastic and stocked many local delicacies and souvenirs.
We had the best snacks at a corner store. They sold deep fried oyster croquettes, grilled fresh oysters and beautiful seafood stick-like foods. The oyster croquettes were very creamy, steamy hot and the outside was crunchy. There was obviously an oyster in the middle but I believed there were also bits of crab liver which made it so lovely. We went back for more croquettes.
The crab sticks were also tasty and quite flling. Just what we needed after our huge hike! The flavours that we got were mentaiko (which is marinated pollock roe), eel, crab and squid in that order. My favourite was the squid before it was so chewy and delicious. I loved how there were big pieces of squid still visible in it. We were pretty full after that and didn’t really feel like having a proper lunch.
We did get our kaki gaki (grilled oysters) from a different store to this, but really all the grilled oysters are essentially the same at all the stores with slight price differences. It was fresh and fragrant and full of juicy goodness. The ones we got were 500yen for 3 with salt and ponzu sauce.
Just down the road is a place that sold cute momiji manju. We picked the chocolate one which was a great choice because it was warm and the inside was gooey chocolate! We also went back for seconds. 🙂
The last snack that I wanted to blog about was the innovative and awesome soft serve cornet! These cornets I’m talking about are bread shaped like a seashell and is often eaten filled with chocolate. However, this smart little store along the shopping strip sells theirs with different flavoured soft serves and the cornet is first deep fried to keep the bread from getting too soggy. I absolutely LOVED the idea and am thinking about making it at home. Can’t believe I haven’t seen it anywhere else yet. Yuye got a vanilla flavour while I got vanilla with black sesame. In my opinion, stick with the plain vanilla because I couldn’t really taste the black sesame so wasn’t worth the extra 50yen. For vanilla it cost us 450yen while the black sesame was 500yen. The bread was warm and crunchy which made me think of fried ice cream. If only the weather outside was not so cold that my teeth were hurting from biting into the ice cream.
I know this has been yet another very long post and it has taken me equally long to write. There’s just so much detail that I want to share with all of you because everything about my trip was so exciting! The next instalment of my Japan trip will be about Kyoto, one of the most breathtaking and cultural capitals of Japan. Stay tuned my readers! 🙂