I really wanted to visit Miyajima! You know that gorgeous giant red torii gate in the middle of the sea? The one in many a Japanese brochure, and used to tempt people to visit Japan? Well, that very torii gate is located out in the sea just off the island of Miyajima. So while planning my visit to Hiroshima City (read about the trip here), I made it a point to include this very Itsukushima Shrine landmark. And that was when I found out it was under construction (and completely covered too)! Despite that, since I was already there — I decided to visit Miyajima Island anyway.
Miyajima Island, Hiroshima
Miyajima Island is located in the Hiroshima Prefecture, on the northwest portion of the Hiroshima Bay. It is surrounded by the Seto Inland Sea, and lies within the Setonaikai National Park. The island is known as one of the three most beautiful scenic spots in Japan. It is officially known as Itsukushima, it is more commonly called Miyajima, which means “the Shrine island” in Japanese. And of course, that’s because of iconic red torii gate, and all the many other Buddhist and Shinto shrines that can be found around this mountainous rural island. People visit Miyajima to see these shrines, hike along the trails around Mount Misen, dine on the local delicacies like oysters and manju cakes, and the best part of all is to soak in the onsen of the many ryokan around town.
I was traveling with my family, and we decided to stay a night in a ryokan on the island. In the evening when the crowds dispersed after their day trips (and the many roaming wild deer go to sleep), the scenic island had a whole different vibe. It was calm and quiet, and still. And if only the floating torii gate was NOT under construction during my visit — it would have been absolutely romantic (so I shall envy you who have or will visit when the torii gate is displayed in all its red glory).
Getting to Miyajima
My family and I were already in Hiroshima, and were based in an Airbnb in the Hondori area. Early in the morning, we took the Astramline (JPY190~MYR7) from Hondori Station to the JR Shin-Hakushima Station. We wanted to travel to Miyajima on the JR-West line because we had the 5-Day JR West Hiroshima – Yamaguchi Area Pass: EMCO E-Ticket (JPY11,200 ~ MYR422/US$100) purchased from KKday, which allowed us unlimited access to the entire Hiroshima and Yamaguchi JR-West line network. So our train ride to JR Miyajimaguchi Station was already included in the pass. It takes an hour.
From the JR Miyajimaguchi Station, it was a short 1-minute walk to the ferry terminal, where we took the JR-West ferry (also included in the pass) for a 10-minute ride over to Miyajima Island. Getting to and fro from Hiroshima to the island was pretty easy (even with us lugging our huge bags around with us).
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Stay at the Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto
Though the island of Miyajima is filled with ryokan, there are also hotels and guesthouses to choose from. I ended up picking the Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto (book with Agoda) because it has pretty affordable rates, is in the middle of town (just 300m from the floating torii gate), has Japanese-style rooms with futons and Western ones to choose from, and an onsen. I booked a Japanese-style room for the 5 of us, and it came with a spacious living and sleeping area, a separate changing room, another small living room with sofas, and a private bathroom. It cost us approximately JPY91,000 (MYR3,420) — inclusive of dinner and breakfast the next day, use of the onsen, and free shuttle service. When we arrived at Miyajima, the shuttle came to meet us at the island’s ferry port; and because it was too early for check-in, they took our luggage to store at the hotel so that we could explore the island.
Dinner at the hotel/ryokan that night was delicious. Dressed up in the provided yukata, we made our way down to the dining area and was assigned a waiter who served us during our entire stay. Dinner was a 12-course Japanese dining experience — and we had luxurious dishes like a sashimi plate, Miyajima oysters, Miyajima beef, tempura, soup, Japanese pilaf and desserts. We were all stuffed! Breakfast in the morning had two choices — Japanese and Western; and were served as sets in the same dining area.
And the onsen, yes the onsen! I love my Japanese onsen sessions, and you have to experience one in Miyajima. I went at night, and in the morning before leaving — and it always feels so good. The Miyajima Grand Hotel Arimoto was a great choice for us, as it really was close to almost everywhere we wanted to visit on the island.
Places to See on the Island:-
The main attraction of Miyajima is the Itsukushima-jinja Shrine and its giant floating Torii Gate. That’s what everyone comes to see. The entire shrine complex (the main Honsha Shrine, the Marado Shrine, the Torii Gate, the stages and the other smaller shrine buildings) are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 12th century shrine and torii gate is unique as it is built over water — and floats over the sea during high tide. The shrine is built in a small inlet, and the torii gate sits further out into sea. Entrance to the shrine cost JPY300 (MYR11), but the torii gate is free to view at all times of the day.
Unfortunately for us, the torii gate (at 16m high and weighing 60 tons) was covered entirely by scaffolding during our visit — due to restorative works in preparation for the 2020 Olympics. It was fun however, to join the crowd walking right up to the base of the torii gate during low tide; and then see it (scaffolding and all) floating above the water when the sea comes in. We also stayed the night on the island, so we managed to view the structure come dark. Another way to view the torii gate is via an evening cruise — but we didn’t see the point.
I personally think that the Daisho-in Temple is one of the most interesting temples I’ve visited. Built in the 12th century, it is one of the most prestigious Shingon (a Buddhism sect) temple in the western part of Japan. Upon arriving at the main Nioman Gate that leads up to the temple grounds, instead of taking the long steep staircase up, turn left towards the winding steps that is lined with five hundred statues of Shaka Nyorai’s disciples. It’s really adorable as each statue has a different facial expression, and during my visit — they were dressed in colorful knitted hats.
My family and I spent almost 2 hours exploring the many temples, shrines and halls inside the Daisho-in Temple grounds. It was educational to learn about the significance of each image of the deities, and visit halls that has thousands of small images donated by worshippers. There’s also a cave called the Henjyokusu Cave that houses the principal Buddhist icons of the 88 temples on the prestigious Shikoku pilgrimage route. It is believed that worshippers will be given the same blessings as those who make the actual pilgrimages to these temples. Daisho-in Temple is free to enter and explore, but of course, respect is expected when visiting places of worship.
Mount Misen is the sacred mountain of Miyajima, and situated in the center of the island at 535m above sea level. It became a holy mountain in 806 as the Buddhis monk, Kobo Daishi underwent his ascetic practice there for 100 days. He lit a fire on the mountain that is said to have been burning for 1200 years (the temple with the flame is along the hike up to the summit). There are many way to get to the top of Mount Misen — some people start the trail from town at the Momiji-dani-koen Park (shortest and steepest), Daisho-in Temple (most scenic), or the Omoto Shrine; each about a 2-hour hike. We, however, decided to head up and down on the ropeway.
There are two ways to get to the base station of the Miyajima Ropeway — you can either walk through a portion of the Momiji-dani-koen Park; or take the free scheduled shuttle bus that ferries people from the park entrance to the ropeway entrance. We decided to walk, as the walking paths through the park make a lovely stroll, especially with all the beautiful autumn colors on the trees. On the way, we passed by a few small shrines, a little stream, and some lookout points. The Momiji-dani-koen trail leads all the way up to the top of the mountain — but after 500m, we turned towards the ropeway entrance.
Note that the Miyajima Ropeway only takes visitors up to a certain point of the mountain; and from there, it is still another steep hike to get to the top. The ropeway operates two types of aerial ropeway systems — the circulating cable car carries passengers to the mid-station, and a transfer to the funicular cable car goes to the top station near the Shishiiwa Observatory. A return trip costs JPY1480 (MYR55) per adult; and JPY1010 (MYR38) one way. And views while on the ropeway — absolutely gorgeous.
Mount Misen Observatory
If you aren’t up for some hiking, the Shishiiwa Observatory offers beautiful views of the Seto Inland Sea and beyond. But we wanted to reach the Mount Misen Observatory at the summit — and so we hiked the trail. The sign says that it’s only 1km long, but because we had to climb another 100m up the mountain, it was a pretty steep trail. The scenery along the path was absolutely stunning; so despite the steepness, walking in Uggs and carrying a huge handbag, I was too distracted to be bothered!
Halfway up the trail we passed by the huge Misen Hondo Hall and the Reikado Hall (that houses the eternal fire); as well as several small shrines and a rock tunnel. And finally, after an hour of hiking — the Mount Misen Observatory! I love how the observatory has two levels — the top for pictures and breathtaking 360 degree views; and another level with wooden boards for you to rest and relax on, and still enjoy the views. I could just lie there for a long long time.
But yes, the Miyajima Ropeway closes at 5pm, so we had to make sure we made it down to the top station before then!
Miyajima Omotesandō Shōtengai
And of course, what is Japan without some shopping? Miyajima’s Omotesando Shotengai is a shopping street that stretches about 350 meters, and is lined with lots and lots of stalls, shops and restaurants. It is probably the busiest place in all of Miyajima, and was the main street even back during the Showa Period (1926–89). You can find everything you need to buy (or eat) in Miyajima here — the succulent Miyajima oysters, boxes and boxes of Momiji Manju, and of course, all kinds of little trinkets and souvenirs to bring home.
Other Places of Interest
Other than the ones that I’ve visited, there are many other interesting places scattered around this sacred island. You can visit the many other shrines and temples like the Five-storied Pagoda in the center of town, the Daigan-ji Temple and the Omoto Shrine; the Miyajima History and Folklore Museum and the Miyajima Traditional Crafts Center; or even the Miyajima Aquarium (which is a very popular place for the kids).
Things to Eat and Buy:-
Anagomeshi at Ueno
The Anagomeshi Ueno Restaurant is not located on the island, but at Miyajimaguchi (between the JR Miyajimaguchi Station and the ferry terminal) — and is a definite must-eat before or after you visit Miyajima. We had it when we first arrived in town, just in time for opening at 10am (and then the queue got longer and longer). An extremely popular restaurant, Ueno only serves one dish — the anagomeshi, which is a glazed grilled conger eel lunch box (bowl). And boy, was it the most delicious lunch box I’ve ever had… the eel just melted in my mouth. The lunch box comes in three sizes — small, regular and large; and the price ranges from JPY1,950-2,750 (MYR73-103). Come early (like us), or you’ll have to wait a long time to get a seat.
You can smell the waft of grilled oysters almost everywhere in the air near the Miyajima shopping streets. Just like Hiroshima, oyster is a Miyajima gourmet food due to the mild waves and tide flows, making the conditions favourable for oyster farming. You can either buy grilled oysters as a snack from the stalls and eat it on the spot; or visit some of the specialty restaurants around town for a wide range of oyster dishes. One famous restaurant is the Yakigaki No Hayashi along the Omotesando Shotengai — it was extremely packed with people when we were there. We had our oyster fix during the kaiseki dinner meal at our ryokan.
I love the Momiji Manju! It is a small traditional dessert cake usually filled with red bean paste, and comes in the shape of a Japanese maple leaf. It is another specialty of Miyajima, and there are many shops (with their own brands) around town that sell this delicious manju — and some even have an open bakery for you to watch the manju being made. It was so hard to decide which shop to buy my Momiji Manju from, but in the end I decided to go with one that had them in all sorts of different flavours — chocolate, custard, cheese, matcha, and even coffee. Such a great souvenir to bring home, as they also come in prettily wrapped boxes.
And yes, beer. Miyajima brews its very own beer in a small factory along the Omotesando Shotengai — and my sister and I happened to stumble upon it while walking along the shopping street. So we decided to give it a try. The Miyajima Brewery has a restaurant on its higher floor that serves food as well; but we wanted to just have a taste and ordered a small cup at the tasting counter for JPY400 (MYR15). The brand has six types of beer — Caramel Blond, Pale Ale, Weizen, Pilsner, Golden Ale and Momiji Ale; but only the first three comes in cans for you to buy home.
My Visit to Miyajima Island
My family and I had a really good time on Miyajima Island. Despite the fact that we came at a time when we couldn’t get to see the famous torii gate in its full beauty — the island still had so many wonderful things to see and admire. I loved the autumn colors we found everywhere on Miyajima; I love its beautiful temples and shrines; I loved soaking in the onsen in our beautiful ryokan hotel; I loved walking around the island in the day when its bustling and at night when its quiet; and I really enjoyed that family hike up Mount Misen that was both tiring and eventful. Even the roaming wild deer that can be found EVERYWHERE on the island and has horns, and sometimes come too close for comfort; was alright.
So even without the torii gate — I’m so glad that we decided to visit anyway; and stayed a night on this beautiful island.
Categories: Asia, East Asia, Heritage Sites and Culture, Japan, Nature and the Outdoors
For more information about Itsukushima Shrine