Photographic Journals on Travel, Sport, Australian Society & Japanese Culture


August 2018: Itsukushima Shrine – One of Japan’s Famous ‘Scenic Trio’

Miyajima – which means ‘Shrine Island’ in Japanese – is located in the Setonaikai (Seto Inland Sea) off Hiroshima City. Officially known as Itsukushima, the island is renowned as one of the three greatest scenic spots of Japan. Even if you haven’t yet been to Japan, the chances are that you’ve seen somewhere, an image of the iconic Grand Torii Gate of Itsukushima Shrine seemingly ‘floating’ on the water at high tide.

Entrance to Itsukushima Shrine

You can walk to the Grand Torii Gate during low tides

Originally built in the late 6th century, the shrine’s present structure is attributed to the work carried out by the famous 12th-century warlord Taira no Kiyomori. Later, in the 16th century, the Mori clan that ruled the region renovated parts of the shrine and reconstructed the Grand Torii Gate. Itsukushima Shrine is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the must-see tourist attractions in the region. If you ask me, it is criminal to visit Hiroshima without seeing the Atomic Bomb Dome and Miyajima; that would be like visiting Sydney without seeing the Opera House and the Blue Mountains (or Bondi Beach – depending on your preference!).

There are several cruise routes to Miyajima out of Hiroshima City, but the 10-minute JR West Japan ferry ride from Miyajimaguchi Pier offers the best view of the Grand Torii Gate and Itsukushima Shrine from the sea. If you have a JR (Japan Rail) Pass, just catch a westbound train on the JR Sanyo Main Line from Hiroshima Station (30 minutes approx.) and connect to the JR ferry at Miyajimaguchi Station.

Traditional shopfront in Miyajima

Oh Dear! Beware of Hungry Deer!

Watch out for hungry deer!

Apparently, my parents took me and my kid brother to Miyajima when we were little, but I only have fragments of memory of that trip. So, decades on, I decided to visit the island again for a proper look when I returned home in August 2018.

Once you get off the ferry and set foot on the island, the first sight you catch is of lots of wild deer roaming the streets. Although ‘wild’, they are tame and not afraid of humans – and they are EVERYWHERE!! While you should not feed those animals, all they want is some free feed off unsuspecting tourists. And if you happen to have some food on you… well, watch out!

Speaking of food, Miyajima is famous for fresh seafood. Don’t leave the island without trying some delicious oyster dishes and grilled anago (conger eel) on steamed rice. If you are looking for a local watering hole, head straight to Miyajima Brewery. They brew several kinds of original craft beers with natural spring water from the island. The Brewery’s ‘Flight of Three’ – a 3-drink tasting set – is popular among visitors.

Mother and baby deer

Mt Misen – Miyajima’s Own ‘Little Everest’

Five-storied pagoda and a teahouse

You can easily visit Miyajima on a day trip from Hiroshima City; however, it’s a good idea to stay on for a couple of days if you want to explore this charming island. Apart from Itsukushima Shrine, there are many shrines and temples dotted around the island.

If you like some physical activities, then try climbing Mt Misen – Miyajima’s highest peak at 535 meters. But don’t be fooled by this seemingly modest altitude. There are three different climbing routes to the summit (1.5 – 2.5 hours) but whichever route you take, it is steep going. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem if you are fit and healthy. Just make sure to allow yourself plenty of time, and don’t start climbing late in the day.

Decorative rice scoops with prayers and wishes written on them

“It goes from zero altitude to 535 meters, so climbing Mt Misen is actually harder than many people think it would be,” warned the manager of my accommodation, before adding: “Watch out for mamushi (pit viper snake), too – they are venomous, you know!” So, whatever you do, do not stray from the walking track!

Fortunately, there is a much easier option for anyone too lazy (me!) or unfit: just take the ropeway up to Shishiiwa Station located at the 433-meter mark and walk the final stage to the summit. It had been 12 long years since my last ‘serious’ mountaineering endeavor – a 9-day Himalaya trekking in the Annapurna region – so I took the lazy option of catching the ropeway up. (For which I would be eternally grateful in the end…)

During the final ascent, you pass a few old temples including Reika-do Eternal Fire Hall – where a sacred flame is said to have continued burning for some 1,200 years. The ‘Flame of Peace’ at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park originates from this sacred fire.

Little ‘Jizo’ statues on Mt Misen

After enjoying superb views of the Seto Inland Sea from Mt Misen Observatory, I trekked down the mountain as per my plan. Surely it wouldn’t be that hard to climb DOWN this little mountain… or so I thought. But you shouldn’t underestimate the descent of Mt Misen, either. Because of the steep downhill, my legs turned to jelly well before I reached the bottom of the mountain!

I had a fantastic time on my second visit to Miyajima – although I ended up nursing my sore legs for quite a few days afterwards…

Reference & tourist information

Main image: Miyajima’s iconic Grand Torii Gate

Next Post

Previous Post


Theme by Anders Norén