Miyajima, also known as Itsukushima, was one of the best places I have visited in Japan. It is an island right next to Hiroshima that is well-known around the world for its red Great Torii Gate. There are many temples around and deers walking everywhere!! If I could I would gladly spend there more time. The island is also considered as one of the best scenic spots in Japan! But what can you do there? Let’s get to it 😀
It is really easy to get there. Just get to Miyajimaguchi station and take a ferry from there. It takes 10 minutes to get to the island.There are two companies that run that route. If you have JR pass just take JR ferry.
On the station, there are lockers so you can leave your luggage there without worries.
What to see
Even though it is just a small island there is plenty to see and do there. Everything depends on how much time you have. If you book way ahead, you can sleep in the ryokan on the island. That makes taking pictures during sunset much easier 🙂
The Great Torii Gate
The Great Torii gate is the symbol of the island. It became so popular that in most commercials of Japan you will be able to spot it. The gate is boundary between the spirit and human world. During high tide the gate is surrounded by water, but during low tide it is possible to walk up to it.
When I got there, I planned my ferries according to tides so I could see the gate in both states. If you want to try it, click on the link.
Itsukushima Shrine, a shrine that floats on a water, is a World Heritage Site. It has almost 1400 years of history! Because the island has been proclaimed as pure and couldn’t be tainted by common people, pilgrims were not allowed to set foot on the island. That is why the shrine has been built on the water, and everyone who wanted to approach the place had to steer their boat through the Great Torii Gate. Even today, pregnant woman, elderly and sick people need to return to mainland as giving birth and death is forbidden on the island.
If you want to know more about the history, check out the official website.
It is one of the most important Buddhist temples and the one I enjoyed the most on the island. It has been founded by the monk Kukai (Kobo Daishi) in 806. There are many buildings inside but what is most interesting is that there are many statues all around the temple grounds:) Just when you enter the temple you spot immediately 500 Rakan Statues (original disciples of Buddah). If you look closer you can see that each one of them has a different expression!
Further inside the temple, you can spot Jizo statues. They usually are dressed in bibs and have a knitted hats and scarfs. Jizo is the protector of the spirits of deceased babies and children. You can notice a ladle nearby. By pouring water over a Jizo statue you bring consolation to their souls.
Apart from those statues, there are many realllly CUTE little figures around! I went crazy with pictures there:D There are just so many different statues in this temple!
When you walk up the stairs take a notice of a row of spinning metal wheels that are inscribed with sūtra (Buddhist scriptures). Turning the inscriptions as one walks up is believed to have the same effect as reading them. It is believed that touching the sutras will bring good fortune. So in order not to risk it I touched them all 😀
One other interesting place that you should visit while in the temple is the Henjokutsu Cave. It looks gorgeous with dim lanterns hanging from the ceiling. The cave has Buddhist icons and sand from the 88 temples of the Shikoku pilgrimage route. Worshiping in the cave gives the same blessing as visiting all the 88 temples.
It is the highest mountain on the island.
It is said that Buddhism was first practiced on Mount Misen by Kobo Daishi. Near Misen’s summit, you can find several temples which belong to Daisho-in Temple.
You can either hike up or use ropeway. There are three trails:
- The Momijidani Course – the shortest -2,5km but quite steep at the top. It should take around 2 hours to reach the top. The entry point for this trail is near the lower rope-way station.
- The Daisho-in Course – it is the easiest one. It is 3 km trail. It is said that the most beautiful scenery can be seen while going on this trail. On the other side, there are ~2000 steps up:D Let’s say that when I was walking down I was really glad I have gone up 😀 The starting point is near Daisho-in temple.
- The Omoto Course – it is the longest trail of 3,5 km. It starts from Omoto shrine.
For those that are short on time (like me) or are not fit, there is a ropeway available. It takes you to the Shishi-iwa Observatory. After reaching the observatory you still have to hike for 30 min to reach the top. I chose to go up with ropeway and then descend with a Daisho-in hiking trail. It gave me possibility to see amazing views from the top, enjoy the hike and save some time to see other things.
The 7 wonders of Mt Misen
The mountain is a holy and sacred place. It is also a place where you can find different wonders:
- Kiezu-no-hi -The eternal flame now housed in the Kiezu-no-Reikado Hall. It is said that the flame has been burning constantly for 1200 years, ever since Kobo Daishi lit it. It is the source of the flame of peace that burns in the Hiroshima Peace Park.
- Kanman-iwa rock – The ebb and flow rock located high on the mountain but where the water level rises and falls with the tide. What is weird is that the rock is 500 m above the sea level and the water is salty.
- Shakujo-no-ume – Plum of crosier, the apricot tree that sprung from the staff of Daishi
- Mandara-iwa rock, a colossal bedrock the size of a couple of dozen tatami mats that bears the gigantic Sanskrit handwriting of Kobo Daishi engraved on its face. Rock falls in recent years mean the path to see the rock faces is now closed and access is forbidden.
- The sound of the wooden clappers, a mysterious sound at midnight that some say is made by the long-nosed goblin, Tengu.
- Shigure-zakura – The showered cherry tree was reported during the Edo period as appearing as if it had been rained on even on a sunny day. Unfortunately the sakura tree was chopped down and nothing remains of it now.
- Ryuto-no-sugi -Sea-fire Japan Cedar was a giant cedar tree that was reported as the source of mysterious lights that could be seen from the Seto Inland Sea below. The cedar has since died, and only the stump remains.
More about things you can see on the mountain -> here.
While visiting Miyajima remember to try oysters. The area is trendy because of them, and on the main street, you can find them everywhere.
If you are not into oysters – like me, you have to try momiji manjyu – small cake in the shape of the maple leaf (momiji) traditionally filled with sweet red azuki bean paste. I fell in love with it and ended up buying the whole box:D
If you are into collecting KitKats along the way, remember that you can buy special edition there: KitKatMomiji Manju.