Miyajima, also known as the island of the Gods, is no stranger to many tourists in Japan, local or foreigners alike, because of its famous O-Torii Gate and Itsukushima Shrine that is fame for floating over the river. It is one of the most famous islands in Japan with its magnificent charms in contrast to its humble backstreets and the simplicity of nature. It has one of Japan’s magnificent views with Mount Misen as the backdrop while the winding streets of the town are steeped in history. It is easily accessed by the frequent ferry from the mainland. Also known as the Shrine Island, this place has been revered as sacred due to Itsukushima Shrine, which is founded here in 593 AD and dedicated to the maritime guardian goddesses.
The Great Torii Gate
Most people came to visit Miyajima just to see this great floating Torii gate, a testament to mystical boldness, as one can already see it floating from afar on the boat en route to Miyajima island. It is believed to be the boundary between the spirit world and our world. The best time to view the great Torii is during the high tide, where it will look like it is really floating on the sea. But an inside tip is to go during low and high tide to see the different effects of the floating shrine. At the lowest tide during the six-hour cycle, you can walk out to the O-torii Gate across the opposite bank. Visiting the shrine at night (if you are lucky enough to be staying over) is also another sight to behold, with the light shining on it, the shrine seems almost out of this world. While photographers would keen themselves to come during dusk, where it is the best time to capture the Torii against the golden sky.
The shrine is also known as the floating shrine as it is situated on top of the sea as well. It comprises of the Heiden (Offering Hall), Haiden (Hall of Worship), Harridan (Purification Hall) and corridors that connect them. This UNESCO World Heritage site can be visited with a fee, and if you don’t want to you may just marvel at the floating shrine while taking in the serenity of the surroundings and the beckoning horizon beyond the shrine.
Wander the Machiya streets, which was once the main street of Miyajima. It has quaint old flavours that are bound to delight visitors. Walking here you will find yourself marveling at beautiful latticed buildings with a five storied pagoda serving as the backdrop. One can’t help but be transported back in time while traversing here.
Things to Do
Miyajima walking / hiking route for one day
There is a popular walking route in Miyajima where you would be walking a loop starting from Miyajima Pier and back, passing by Itsukushima Shrine of course and other shrines, temples, museum, pagodas and the park. It will cover most of the Must Sees tourist attractions and places mentioned above. The walk may take from 2 hours to 4 hours, depending how long you spend at each location. Give yourself ample time to take in the beauty of this walk and to slowly absorb what Miyajima island has to offer.
The walking route:
Miyajima Pier —> (12 mins) Itsukushima Shrine (5 mins) —> Nishi Matsubara & Kiyomori Shrine (5 mins) —> Miyajima Museum of Historical and Folk Materials (3 mins) —> Daiganji Temple (1 min) —> Treasure Hall (1 min) —> Tahoto (Pagoda) (10 mins) —> Momijidani Park (20 mins) —> Five-Storied Pagoda & Senjokaku (10 mins) —> Miyajima Pier
Hike up Mount Misen
Climb up to Mount Misen and enjoy the beautiful view from up there. This virgin forest is also abundant with nature and historical monuments. There are many ways to hike up, and the three trails are the Momiji Dani Route, the Daishonin route and the Omoto route. More information can be found here on these routes.
Try the local specialty foods
There are a few local specialty products in Miyajima, just like almost everywhere in Japan with strong local pride, that you should try. The few popular ones are the Miyajima popular sweet momiji manjyu, a maple shaped Japanese sweet pastry, Miyajima oysters, where oyster farming here dates back to 330 years and Anago Meshi, eels from Onoseto (facing Miyajima) which are known for its soft texture and rich flavours.
Spot a Deer
If you are lucky, you will spot a deer or two when you are on one of the numerous walks or hikes around Miyajima. These creatures are always a delight as it has an unexplainable sort of rapturing and calming effect.
Wander the streets at night
If you are the very few who stayed the night at Miyajima, you are in for a treat. Wander the streets of Miyajima at night and bring in the sense of adventure, a good mix of serenity and eeriness. The winding streets are lit up with traditional stone lamps, transporting one back in time. Walk tp the floating Great Torii gate again to find that it has also been romantically lit up with yellow lights. The atmosphere is definitely different here at night than in the day.
Join the Festivals
Come here during festivals and you will find Miyajima transform from its subdue and quiet self into a buzzing and exciting island. The largest festival in Miyajima is the Kangensai Festival, fixed yearly on June 17, where there will be decorated boats, priests and musicians crossing along the bay in a colourful procession. As for the most popular festival, it is the Miyajima Water Fireworks Festival, which would bound to truly impress with huge fireworks over the sea playing to various scenes, completed with the renown Torii gate in the midst of it all.
Experience a Ryokan
If you have planned to experience Ryokan at least once in Japan, despite the prices, then Miyajima may be one of the best places to do it. When night falls, the islands fell into a state of reverie after all the day tourists have left. With nothing else except a night visit to the floating shrine, relaxing in Ryokan after a huge and delectable Japanese feast will make your trip a truly memorable one. If you can, remember to ask for a sea view from the bedroom, where you can enjoy your Ocha (hot green tea) with a momiji manjyu while enjoying the view. I have personally tried Miyajima Seaside Hotel (Ryokan) *and enjoyed it very much, but I do believe there are many more dotted around the island bay that would suit your needs. Tip: check if they provide free shuttles between the pier and the Ryokan.
Miyajima Island is only 32km in circumference and can be easily covered in a day or two. Come here to wander the interesting town’s backstreets and stroll through it many nature walks, befitting of the gods. Don’t forget the many interesting Ryokans to choose from in this island, especially if you choose to stay longer and relax. Share with us your experience in Miyajima Island and if there are more things to see and to do that you know about.
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