Miyajima Island is one of those places that pops up in all the travel brochures and you almost feel obliged to visit it because it is mentioned so many times. It was added to our Japan itinerary without us really knowing an awful lot about it, but soon became yet another highlight of our trip. The island in Hiroshima bay is most famous for it’s red floating gate (or torii) which at high tide appears to hover elegantly in the waters close to shore. The torii is just part of the impressive Itsukushima shrine – a UNESCO world heritage site and said to be one of the top three scenic sights in the whole of Japan. There are many other reasons to visit this lush island which is surprisingly forested and mountainous . There are plenty of things to do here and much hiking to be had for the more adventurous. Sadly we only had an afternoon on the island but I felt i could easily have spent a whole day and night here.
Ferries are provided by japan rail (covered by your japan rail pass) from Miyajimaguchi and various other private companies which run fairly regularly from other nearby ports including hiroshima and some larger hotels. Typically the ferries don’t provide a return service that runs much later than 17:00, so plan to stay on the island or get there early to make the most of your day.
Forget taking a car onto the island as this is actively discouraged and the island is not particularly car friendly. Most places you will want to visit are accessible by foot. Allow a few hours just to stroll around the town and surrounding area taking in Daisho-in temple, the numerous shops and to soak up the atmosphere as you walk along it’s ancient streets.
Itsukushima shrine: This world heritage site is an example of shinden architecture and is home to the famed torii floating gate. Overlooking the beautiful Hiroshima bay and a 15 minute walk from the ferry port, the shrine complex is centuries old and can be admired at both low and high tide. Various festivals and events are held at the shrine throughout the year including regular performances of the ancient ‘Bugaku’ court – dance. Allow 30 minutes to stroll round the shrine and take a few snaps.
Admission 300 Yen (~£2)
Opening times as per website below:
|January 1||12 a.m.||–||6:30 p.m.|
|January 2 – 3||6:30 a.m.||–||6:30 p.m.|
|January 4 – end of February||6:30 a.m.||–||5:30 p.m.|
|March 1 – October 14||6:30 a.m.||–||6:00 p.m.|
|October 15 – November 30||6:30 a.m.||–||5:30 p.m.|
|December 1 – December 31||6:30 a.m.||–||5:00 p.m.|
Momijidani Park: This beautiful park is a favourite for cherry tree viewing in Spring, it’s maple trees in autumn and is popular with people and tame deer alike. The park makes for a pleasant stroll and leads up to the ropeway station for Mount Misen. There are one or two notable points such as a koi pond and a picturesque red bridge (pictured right).
Mount Misen: At 500m above sea level, Mount Misen is the highest peak on the island. For 1800 yen (return) you can take a cable car to the top or for the more adventurous you can take one of the three hiking trails that wind up to it’s summit. Expect your hard effort to be rewarded with panoramic views from the top. Lured by the prospect of souvenir shopping, I skipped the hike whilst my husband took the Momijidani path up the mountain – a forested route with great views across the island.
Shopping on Miyajima: if you’re looking for retail therapy, check out the shopping arcade for some lovely gifts. The main shopping street is also home to the world’s largest rice scoop – the rice scoop being a popular item to buy here, along with kokeshi dolls, maneki-neko (beckoning cat) ornaments, samurai swords and the obligatory ‘hello kitty’ paraphernalia.
Miyajima’s food: Miyajima was one of the culinary highlights of our trip to Japan. We basically ate our way across the island. Conger eel and oysters are a specialty and you can buy these from street stalls or in restaurants. One if the best ways to sample lots of different food is to take in some street food, which is often cheaper too. We managed to find an an amazing okonomiyaki (savoury pancake) restaurant, called ‘momo chan’, where they have an English menu and for a very reasonable price you can watch them make your pancake to order in front of you. Then there were the momiji cakes… lovely warm sponge cakes available with a variety of fillings; azuki bean, chocolate, sweet potato, apple, vanilla, peach, blueberry and of course – green tea. At around 90 yen each, you can just keep going! Even more excitingly you can see them being made. This shop in the shopping arcade had a small seating area at the back where you could enjoy a cup of green tea with your momiji cake whilst looking out at a beautiful Japanese garden (pictured right).
Top tips: Take a note of when high tide is in order to see the famous torii ‘float’ but don’t panic if like us, you can’t get there for when the tide is at it’s highest. The gate is still an impressive spectacle even at low tide and you can even walk out to it on the beach.
Don’t miss the views from the historic Machiya street of the pagoda, and of the town from the Yamabe path.
Stay: The Grand Prince Hotel in Hiroshima offers a free shuttle bus to and from the hotel from Hiroshima train station. There is an express ferry to Miyajima that leaves just outside the hotel and takes 25 minutes (cost 3,300 yen round trip). Not the cheapest option for getting to the island, but a great base to get there if your budget allows. For 10,500 yen (£73 +/-), our hotel room included a fantastic sea view and modern facilities. There is a lovely 5km running path that hugs the shore initially then winds through a wooded area. There are several restaurants to choose from and the sky lounge on the 23rd floor boasts both spectacular views and a reasonably priced bar menu.