In the previous part I covered the first day of a 2-day tour of Hiroshima and Miyajima from Tokyo. The first day consisted of arriving at Hiroshima from Tokyo and touring the Peace Memorial Park. In this part I will cover the island of Miyajima and the beautiful Itsukushima shrine.
Miyajima is often described as one of the most beautiful places in Japan. Thanks to the efforts of the administration and the people of the island, it still retains a traditional Japanese Edo-era look. It’s one of those places that let you experience the old charm of Japan before all the modernization happened. It’s also a nature lover’s paradise and provides good opportunities for hiking and camping, though we will leave those out of our itinerary for our one day tour. Okay, if you’re a really good hiker, you can still make it up and down the mountain by afternoon, in time for a train back to Tokyo.
As I had elected to spend the night at Miyajimaguchi after my tour of Hiroshima the previous day, it was quite easy for me to get to the island. Miyajimaguchi is where you have the ferry docks for the short ride to Miyajima island. If you stayed at Hiroshima instead, see the first part of this series on
how to get to Miyajimaguchi.
As far as I could see, there are 2 ferry operators for the Miyajimaguchi to Miyajima ride and back. One of them is JR (Japan Rail), so if you have a JR Pass it’s a free ride for you!
The primary attraction of Miyajima is the Itsukushima shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sprawled across a shallow bay, this mid-16th century Shinto shrine is a sight to behold. But don’t head in there as soon as you land on the island! The shrine looks its best at high tide. The shrine is built on stilts on the shallow bay and as sea water floods the bay at high tide, the shrine appears to float on the water. It’s a majestic sight!
If the tide is low, it’s better to wait till it rises. But of course, if you missed high tide earlier in the morning, you can’t wait for the next one. If you got there early enough, the tide may still be high enough. Use your best judgement here. I didn’t think about the tide being a major factor at first and went in anyway, only to go in again later by spending twice the amount of money on entrance fees. At ¥300 per entry, it’s not that much though.
To reach the shrine, just turn right from the ferry dock and walk along the shore. Even as you are sailing towards the island you should be able to catch a glimpse of the shrine and the O-Torii. The O-Torii is the sea-facing gateway to the shrine and built in typical Japanese style. Like the rest of the shrine, the O-Torii also appears to be a floating structure when the tide is high.
The shrine is like any other Japanese Shinto shrine in terms of its architecture and tranquil ambience, but offers quite a unique experience due to its setting. Walking down the wooden walkways with the water lapping underneath is fascinating! I’ll let the photographs do the talking now. If you like photography, you’ll spend a long time here.
After you’re done with the shrine, you can make your way towards Mt. Misen which is the highest point on the island. There is a ropeway system to take you up but it doesn’t go all the way up to the top of Mt. Misen and even the lower terminal is quite a long way up. There is a shuttle bus service to take you to the lower ropeway terminal from a place near the shrine but they are infrequent, so I walked my way up instead of waiting for it. It’s not that long or steep, so even if your fitness level is average you will probably enjoy the walk up the narrow road that winds up the greenery covered hillside. The ropeway system is in 2 stages. The first stage consists of several small cars that take you to an intermediate station. The next stage has only two large cars, so you may have to wait a while for it. It is rather expensive though at ¥1,800 for a round trip.
The ropeway takes you to a point which is pretty high, though it’s still not the peak of Mt. Misen. At this place you have a pretty good view point that gives you good all round visibility. When I was there, typhoon Melor was knocking on the doors but the visibility was good enough to be able to see as far as Hiroshima. Yes, it was very windy!
The peak of Mt. Misen is still a long way from here and the only way is to walk there. You have to go downhill for a while along a narrow trail and then up again. I tried trekking but gave up after a while as I thought it might be too time consuming. I had to return to Tokyo the same day and was afraid of missing the last train. On second thoughts though, the trek was quite doable as it would take about 30 minutes each way. If you are a nature lover, I would strongly recommend it.
And by the way, if you’re really into trekking you can ditch the ropeway and do it all on your feet. As for me, I decided not to venture further towards the peak and turned back. On the way back I got the shuttle which saved me some walking. When I descended it was high tide, which made my earlier visit to the Itsukushima shrine seem quite dry in comparison, if you excuse the pun. So I went in again, spending twice the money and time as one ideally should. Which is why I recommend you wait till high tide if you can. After this I didn’t have much time left, so I just walked along the shopping street back to the ferry dock without doing any shopping. Miyajima is known for its wooden spatulas of various kinds and sizes, even outrageously large ones!
That pretty much ends my tour. It was shortly after noon when I sailed back to the mainland. After checking out of the hostel I once again took a local train from Miyajimaguchi to Hiroshima station and then the Shinkansen to Tokyo. If I remember correctly, it was around 8 or 9 in the evening when I got back to my hotel in Tokyo. Of course i could have spent a few more hours and reached around midnight, but I was happy with the tour overall, especially as it was combined with Hiroshima. Not bad for a 2 day trip, considering that Tokyo and Hiroshima are about 800 kilometers or 500 miles away!
Here’s a video for the day.