Oh, Miyajima! What can I say that hasn’t been said about this wonderful island before? All I can do is describe our visit in 2013, which will be a personal perspective on one of Japan’s three most scenic places (Nihon Sankei). The only one on the list that we haven’t yet seen is Matsushima.
We took a tram through Western Hiroshima to the Nishi Hiroshima JR station. Travelling through the streets away from the city made me want to hop off the tram and explore. There wasn’t time this trip, but it’s something I’d like to do if we go again.
From Nishi Hiroshima station we took a local train to Miyajimaguchi. I enjoyed seeing the changing landscape through the train window and looking at the different sized towns that we passed through. At Miyajimaguchi we took the underpass beneath the road to the JR Ferry. At the Ferry terminus is a statue of a Noh actor. As we would discover, Noh is regularly performed at the Itsukushimajinja shrine and the stage there is an important one. The statue was very imposing.
Unsure of what we would find to eat on the island, we popped into a 7&i before catching the ferry, to stock up on onigiri, peanuts and bottled water. I was served by an American who was surprised by my ability to read the kanji on the onigiri packets. He seemed very chilled out, working in a 7&i near Miyajima. I envied the life I imagined him having ever so slightly.
I’m not a fan of boats, but I coped okay with the ferry crossing. The boat was quite big and the sea was calm, so I even braved standing at the rail to take pictures of the scenery.
The famous torii seemed small from a distance, but still very pretty. The island itself also looked very beautiful and inviting as we approached. I was excited to see the shrine as we pulled into the harbour.
After we disembarked, we walked towards the covered shopping street, Omotesando, buying ice creams on the way. The island was busy, with school groups and other tourists, but strolling under the awnings out of the sun was fun. We spotted something that we wanted to buy as a gift for Russell’s mum but didn’t want to carry around with us all day, so I asked the shop keeper what time her store would be closing. She explained that it was the Toka-sai, or peach blossom festival, and most of the shops would be open late until 8 p.m., so we carried on wandering, passing Hello Kitty in a shrine and a giant wooden rice paddle.
We also passed a couple of shops where momiji were being made. Momiji are maple leaf shaped cakes filled with bean paste, custard, fruit, all sort of fillings. Larry, one of the volunteer directors at World Friendship Center where we were staying in Hiroshima, had told us about the machines that make the momiji being on display in the windows of the stores and how interesting it was to watch the process before buying one (or two, or three) of the tasty treats. He wasn’t wrong, either!
Of course, we bought some momiji – I had a green tea custard filled one and a peach purée filled one. They were both delicious.
From Omotesando, we joined the crowds making their way to Itsukushimajinja. As we passed through stone torii, we were overtaken by a bride and groom in a rickshaw, followed by their wedding guests. They all looked lovely, and we followed in their wake, making our way between deer who were being fed by school children towards the torii in the bay.
We took a lot of photographs of the vermilion torii in the sunshine.
It was hard to take a bad photograph, really. We moved on to the shrine and encountered the bride from the wedding party that had swished past us in the rickshaw, having her photograph taken. She looked beautiful. Her proud father told the interpreter with a group of Australian tourists that it would be okay if anybody wanted to have their photograph taken with his daughter. Nobody took him up on his offer, but plenty of people, including me, took the opportunity to snap a portrait of the beautiful bride.
During Toka-sai, free performances of Noh plays are put on within the shrine. There is a special Noh stage which is part of the shrine precincts. A leaflet I picked up at the ferry terminus explained a lot about the Itsukushimajinja stage, which is designated as a National Treasure. It was constructed to maintain a link with its environment, in that the stage is separated from the audience by a virtual moat of white pebbles. At high tide, this virtual moat becomes a real one, as the water floods into the shrine grounds. We joined other spectators on the covered walkway to watch a couple of the performances. We didn’t have a clue what was going on, but it was very dramatic!
We wandered around the rest of the shrine for a while, taking more photographs, before heading back onto the island.
After exiting the shrine, we got some kitsune udon for our lunch at a nearby oyster restaurant. It was hot and spicy and delicious, just what we needed to restore ourselves from the heat outside.
We walked up through Momijidani Park to the Ropeway up Mount Misen. It was a lovely walk up through the trees, with the sun shining through the leaves and creating dappled shade on the ground. After we had been walking for a while, we came upon this sign, letting us know how much further it was to the the Ropeway station:
I didn’t much fancying running, even a little, it was so hot, so we carried on strolling, taking in the sights.
Eventually we reached the Ropeway Station. I have quite a fear of heights. I have been known to think I was going to fall off the top of Mount Snowdon in Wales while standing on the very broad flat plateau at the top, just because my brain knew I was very high up indeed. I feel like I’m falling when my husband is playing a game on the XBox that involves narrow ledges and long drops. So a Ropeway probably wasn’t the best idea. I wanted to go up the mountain, though, and my fitness levels weren’t up to the walk. I kept my eyes shut for most of the ride up the mountain, suspended 500m above the forest, and thought we had reached the summit when we disembarked, only to discover that we were changing cars to another section of the ropeway. Fortunately, we were packed into the second car with a lot of other people, so I weirdly felt more secure.
We made it to the top station, and looked across the misty view of the islands in the Inland Sea. Then we walked halfway to the summit, which was really difficult given the heat and our general lack of fitness. We made it to the Kiezu no Reikado Hall, though, and got to see the Eternal Flame where Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon sect in Buddhism, did his training. The flame in the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima was lit from this flame.
We lit incense sticks at the Eternal Flame, then started to walk back down to Daisho-in Temple – a distance of almost 2km down the mountain through the forest. It was very up-and-downy, but mostly downy, which played havoc with my knees! We saw a couple of lizards and a snake, and heard lots of bird calls. Deer were dotted around, too, grazing or dozing. They seemed very docile, and not the menaces we had been warned about. We didn’t see any monkeys, though.
We passed many interesting sights, including bodhisattva statues, a massive gate that housed a pair of scary oni that both of us tried to out-oni, and a hidden collection of carved stones nestling under a rocky outcrop. The view across the bay as we descended was quite spectacular.
Our descent of the mountain had taken us quite a while, so by the time we reached Daisho-in it was closed, and all we could see was the roof of its Hondo across the treetops. Perhaps Daisho-in is our Chion-in on Miyajima?
We carried on walking back down towards Itsukushimajinja and paused to take more photographs of the torii as the sun was setting.
Then we headed back to Omotesando, where we returned to the shop to buy the gift for Russell’s mum, then we caught the ferry back to Miyajimaguchi. We took the train to Hiroshima station and ended our day with an Indian meal at a cosy little restaurant called Namaste in the ASSE building at the station.
Our Miyajima trip was on our last day in Hiroshima, and it was the perfect end to our four day sojourn.