Miyajima

The floating torii gate

Miyajima (宮島) is one of the crown jewels of Japan, and certainly one of its finest views. Located off the coast of Hiroshima, the serene beauty of the island is an essential coda to that city.

Understand

Miyajima has been considered a holy place for most of Japanese history. In 806 AD, the monk Kōbō Daishi ascended Mt. Misen and established the mountain as an ascetic site for the Shingon sect of Buddhism. In the years since, the island's Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines have maintained a close relationship.

In the past, women were not allowed on the island and old people were shipped elsewhere to die, so that the ritual purity of the site would not be spoiled; in fact, the island's real name is Itsukushima (厳島), and Miyajima is just a popular nickname meaning "Shrine Island".

These days, strict measures are taken to ensure that the island's sole town retains a classically Japanese Edo-era look. Deer wander freely through the streets and parks. There are still a few bits of concrete warren that have snuck in, but the seafront promenade is particularly attractive, especially later in the day when the rampaging tour groups head home and the stone lanterns are lit.

Get in

Miyajima and the coastline
Miyajima - Itsukushima area

Miyajima can be reached by sea from Hiroshima. The main ferry terminal on the mainland is Miyajimaguchi (宮島口), which can be reached from JR Hiroshima station either by train (¥400, 25 minutes, or ¥570 for a combination ticket with the ferry) or tram line #2 (¥270, 70 minutes). The tram line also passes by the Peace Memorial Park.

From Miyajimaguchi, JR ferries and Matsudai ferries run to Miyajima up to 10 times per hour. The trip takes 10 minutes and costs ¥180 each way; Japan Rail Pass holders can use the JR ferry for free. The last ferry returns to the mainland at 10:40PM. Most tour groups are gone after 5PM, so you'll have a different experience on the island if you wait them out.

There are also direct ferry connections from the Motoyasubashi Pier of the Hiroshima Peace Park, run by Aqua Net, with departures once per hour between 8:50AM and 6:50PM (returns between 9AM and 5:05PM). The boat is confining with small windows, which can, at times, get rather rough. Passengers are not allowed outside of the boat interior. It takes about 50 minutes and while it provides easy access from Peace Park to the pier, it provides little scenic access due to window size. They charge a steep ¥1900 one-way, ¥1500 return (half-price for children). Direct connections are also available from Ujina Port in Hiroshima, allowing connections with Matsuyama.

There is another ferry which can be caught from Hiroshima port, stopping at the Rprince Hotel. It is more expensive than the other ferries, costing ¥3100 for a return journey, but it does take a slightly more scenic route.

No bridges connect Miyajima to the mainland. Some ferries will carry automobiles and motorcycles, but parking on the island is expensive and difficult to find, unless arranged in advance with a hotel on the island, and most of the sights can't be reached by car. Quite a few of the hotels are willing to pick guests up from the pier with advance notice, though.

Get around

Miyajima is small enough to cover by foot, and there are English-language signs throughout the island. Taxis can be taken from the pier to the hotels and residential areas, but not the tourist sights.

The Miyajima free pass (¥2000) includes unlimited travel on the Mt. Misen ropeway, the ferry, and Hiroshima street cars for two days, so it is a good deal even if you only plan on taking the ferry and the ropeway (ropeway = ¥1800, ferry approximately ¥150 each way). It's available from the Hiroshima tourist office, and also from the conductors on the trams (recommended as it will save you time).

See

The orange pathways on stilts of Itsukushima Shrine

Standing in the bay in front of the shrine, the floating torii is the "gate" to Itsukushima. Note that whether the gate is "floating" or merely mired in mud depends on the tide. The Hiroshima tourist information office will be able to tell you the approximate time of the high tide, which is the best time to see the torii. If you spend a full day on the island, though, you should have the chance to see it both ways.

Daisho-in

Do

Out for a hike on Mt. Misen

Buy

The World's Largest Spatula
The main shopping street between the ferry terminal and Itsukushima

Oddly enough, Miyajima is well-known for its rice scoops (杓子 shakushi), spatula-esque wooden spoons used to serve cooked rice. You can even gaze upon the World's Largest Spatula (well over 5 meters long), showcased along Omotesando, the main shopping street.

The sheer number of souvenir shops is mind-boggling. For the most part, they all sell the same things for the same prices rice scoops, miniature floating toriis, and souvenir boxes of sweets are by far the most common items. (Even Hello Kitty has her own Miyajima-themed shop on Omotesando.) However, the path between the port from Momijidani Park has a few statuaries and art dealers with impressive wares and similarly impressive prices.

Another local treat is deer shit (鹿の糞). Not the real thing, mind you; it's just a crunchy chocolate in the shape of droppings. It's delicious and will surely take center stage when Grandma asks your kids what they did in Japan.

Eat & Drink

There are many little restaurants and vendors in the shopping streets near the shrine. As a rule of thumb, anything out by the seafront in the restored classical houses will be expensive, while the simpler eateries in the streets will be cheaper. Refreshments are also available atop Mt. Misen, with the usual top-of-a-mountain surcharge. Most public restaurants close around 17:00, so travellers staying overnight should plan to have dinner at their hotels or stock up on snacks. Most hotels also have lounges with drinks available.

If you don't eat seafood, be sure to notify your hotel well in advance, as that's almost certainly on the menu. Oysters are a popular dish, though availability may be seasonal.

Sleep

Accommodation on Miyajima is uniformly expensive, and most people on a budget choose to day-trip from Hiroshima instead. But if you can swing it, a night here is definitely worthwhile, as the island is much nicer without the flag-waving, megaphone-equipped tour groups that descend during the day. But, do note, Miyajima can get rather sleepy in the evening hours, so those looking for a relaxing evening, this is a great place for it.

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Torii at low tide

Tame deer amble around the island, harassing tourists for food. While somewhat more restrained than their counterparts in Nara, they're still eager for a hand-out. In the past, waffle-like wafers and pellets could be bought to feed them. However, a feeding ban is now in place, which has led to declining numbers and increased boldness among the remaining deer, who are willing to root in around bags or backpacks for food (even while said bags are being worn). Further up on Mt. Misen, there are a few deer who have not had their (sharp) antlers removed, so take care if you see one.

A colony of monkeys live on Mt. Misen. There is a clearly (and hilariously) marked viewing point outside the ropeway station at the peak, but the monkeys are usually elsewhere. When they are hanging around by the station, standard monkey rules apply: don't stare, don't leave food around, and don't make sudden movements toward them. They're fairly accustomed to humans wandering around in their domain, though, and aren't likely to take much interest in you, unless you have food in your hands.

While people of most ages and fitness levels can handle the hike to Mt. Misen, it's also not a minor exertion, and there are no guide stations along the way.

If wandering the momiji trail, where the path splits a short way below the lower ropeway station, be mindful not to stray onto private property. However, feel free to go up the stairs and take a picture of the beautiful view. The owner of the restaurant claims that he owns the land on top of that hill, but that is not true. Do not hesitate to refuse his offer for an expensive drink.

Go next

Routes through Miyajima

Yamaguchi Iwakuni  W  E  Hatsukaichi Hiroshima


This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, November 07, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.