Miyajima – the Sacred Island Filled with History, Good Food, and Friendly Deer
Itsukushima, or more commonly known as Miyajima, is home to a giant torii gate which is a world heritage site. It is ranked as one of the three best views in Japan.
The torii (Shinto shrine archway) stands freely in the waters offshore. This torii gate is believed to be the boundary between the spirit and human worlds. At high-tide, the gate appears to float above the water. At low-tide, you go down to the beach and walk right up to it. The amazing thing about this shrine is that it is not buried in the seabed. It stands freely, supported by its own weight.
While there are no amusement parks or high-tech attractions on Miyajima, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan. Normally, I avoid crowds of people like the plague.
However, Miyajima is different.
While there will probably be crowds of people waiting to get on the ferry (which is huge and takes tons of people per trip), once you get to the island it feels very relaxed. Sure, the main street that is lined with gift shops, restaurants, and food vendors, will have lots of people there.
While many of the restaurants and stores will have lines of people waiting to get in, it’s not that bad at all.
I have been there many times, even during the holiday season when it gets really busy. I never had to wait for more than a few minutes to buy food or gifts. Maybe I just got lucky. But compared to places like Tokyo Disneyland, where waiting times can reach up to 4 hours, Miyajima is a walk in the park.
What To Do When You Get There
For a small island, you could easily spend a couple of days taking in all of the sights. If possible, you should stay on the island overnight. If you will only be there for the day, you still can see a lot of the island.
Upon exiting the ferry terminal, you will be greeted by some of the 4 legged residents there. These cute deer are domesticated, but that doesn’t mean they won’t attack if threatened. Treat them with respect and they’ll do the same.
If you follow the path next to the ocean, it will take you to the main street (Omotesando) that is lined with restaurants and gifts shops. There will also be a lot of food venders selling some rather unique items.
One of the specialties of Miyajima is oysters. You will see many vendors grilling these oysters on the shell. You can get these raw but I highly recommend you try them grilled.
Other items I have seen are Chinese buns filled with pork or unagi (sea eel), melon bread (shaped like a melon, but no melon flavor) filled with ice cream, many flavors of fish cakes (nigiri ten), and another specialty of Hiroshima, momiji manju. Momiji manju are cakes shaped like maple leaves, and traditionally filled with red bean paste.
There are lots of other modern fillings like cream, cheese, green tea flavored bean paste, custard, chocolate, and much, much more. There are many stores that have the machines to make momiji manju on display, so you can see exactly how they are made.
There are also many gifts shops, filled with little trinkets, food, and traditional Japanese items you can buy.
As you continue down the path, you will eventually reach the torii gate. So here is your chance to take some awesome pictures.
I’m not really into the whole temple and shrine thing, but there are many to be found on Miyajima. Some of them are really photo worthy.
There is also an aquarium at the edge of town, as well as museums. If you will only be there for the day, I think that skipping the aquarium is a good idea. Just exploring the island and the shops can take up a good part of your day.
For an awesome view, hike or take the ropeway up to Mount Misen.
On your way there, you’ll pass by Momijidani Park, where you can see 200 maples trees. They are particularly stunning in the fall, when the leaves change to breath-taking hues of red, orange, and yellow.
In addition to hiking, eating, and taking pictures, you can also try a few hands on activities. There are workshops where you can make your own shakushi (Japanese rice paddle) or your own momiji manju. Reservations are required for this at least a week in advance. You also need to have a group of at least 5 people to sign-up.
How to Get There
By train: Head to the Miyajimaguchi Station on the JR Sanyo Line (headed to Iwakuni). It takes around 30 minutes from JR Hiroshima Station and costs 410 yen each way.
By streetcar: Take the streetcar (Hiroshima Electric Railway) from Hiroshima station and get off at Hiroden Miyajimaguchi Station.
From Miyajimaguchi: Walk to the ferry port. From the JR Miyajimaguchi Station, its about a 5-7 minute walk.
Take the JR Ferry to Miyajima. The trip takes around 10 minutes. You can use the JR Japan Rail Pass for this ferry.
If you don’t have a rail pass, it will cost 180 yen for adults and 90 yen for children each way.
You can also take the Matsudai Kisen Ferry to Miyajima. The prices are also 180 yen for adults, and 90 yen for children.
If you have the chance to stay on Miyajima overnight, you should definitely do it.
You’ll get to see a side of Miyajima that most people miss. You can watch the sunset,and enjoy walking around the island in peace, without being surrounded by crowds of people.
You’ll also get to experience the island at night, where the light from the lanterns gives the island a very spiritual and mysterious feeling to it.
If you are anywhere close to Hiroshima, you should definitely spend a day (or night) on Miyajima. It truly offers something for everyone. There’s lots of culture and history, lots of good food, free-roaming deer, and beautiful nature.