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==Stay safe==
 
==Stay safe==
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[[Image:Miyajima_deer.jpg|thumb|250px|right|Be careful around deer who still have their antlers]]
 
'''Tame deer''' amble around the island, harassing tourists for food. In the past, waffle-like wafers and pellets could be bought to feed to the deer. But at the end of 2007 the government introduced a feeding ban on the island. Because of this, the deer are not in a very good condition now and their numbers are declining. Additionally, the deer can be quite bold, and may root around bags or backpacks (even when worn!) for food. Further up on Mt. Misen, there are a few deer who have not had their (sharp) antlers removed, and visitors should be very careful around them.
 
'''Tame deer''' amble around the island, harassing tourists for food. In the past, waffle-like wafers and pellets could be bought to feed to the deer. But at the end of 2007 the government introduced a feeding ban on the island. Because of this, the deer are not in a very good condition now and their numbers are declining. Additionally, the deer can be quite bold, and may root around bags or backpacks (even when worn!) for food. Further up on Mt. Misen, there are a few deer who have not had their (sharp) antlers removed, and visitors should be very careful around them.
  

Revision as of 05:09, 10 January 2009

The famous floating torii

Miyajima (宮島) [1]) is a small island near Hiroshima, Japan. Famed for Itsukushima Shrine and its floating torii, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and officially one of Japan's Top 3 Views, Miyajima is a very popular destination for Japanese and foreign tourists alike.

Contents

Understand

Miyajima has been considered a holy place for most of Japanese history. In 806 AD, the monk Kobo Daishi ascended Mt. Misen and opened the mountain as an ascetic site for the Shingon sect of Buddhism. In the years since then, Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines have maintained a close relationship on the island. In the past, women were not allowed on the island and old people were shipped elsewhere to die, so that the ritual purity of the site would not be spoiled; in fact, the island's real name is Itsukushima (厳島), and Miyajima is just a popular nickname meaning "Shrine Island"

These days, strict measures are taken to ensure that the modern town retains a classically Japanese Edo-era look, very much a rarity in Japan and a large reason for the town's attractiveness. There are still a few bits of concrete warren that snuck in, but the seafront promenade is particularly attractive, especially later in the day when the rampaging tour groups head home and the stone lanterns are turned on. Deer wander freely in the streets and parks. While somewhat more restrained than their counterparts in Nara, they're still eager for a hand-out.

Get in

Miyajima is an island, so you'll have to take a ferry to get there. The main ferry terminal on the mainland is Miyajimaguchi (宮島口), which you can reach from JR Hiroshima station either by JR train (¥400, 25 minutes, or ¥570 for a combination ticket with the ferry) or by tram line #2 (¥270, 70 minutes from Hiroshima JR Station). The tram line also passes by the Peace Memorial Park and may thus be more convenient for visitors also touring Hiroshima.

From Miyajimaguchi, JR and Matsudai ferries to Miyajima run up to 10 times an hour. The trip takes 10 minutes and costs ¥170 each way; Japan Rail Pass holders can use the JR ferry for free. Ferries return to the mainland until midnight, so it is possible stay until after most of the tour groups leave in the evening before returning on a later ferry.

There are also direct ferry connections from Hiroshima Peace Park to Miyajima, running once an hour or so from near the A-Bomb Dome and taking only 23 minutes, but these charge a steep ¥1640 for the privilege.

Get around

Miyajima is small enough to walk, and the sights are very well sign-posted in English. A cable car ferries passengers up Mt. Misen, but is steeply priced at ¥1800 return. The ropeway closes at 5pm and it is a 30 minute walk from the end of the ropeway to Mt Misen. A Miyajima free pass at ¥2000 includes unlimited travel on the ropeway, the ferry, and the Hiroshima street car for two days, so it is cheaper even if you only plan on taking the ferry and the ropeway.

See

Ceremonial dance at Itsukushima Shrine
  • Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社), [2]. Miyajima's main sight, the shrine is a large, red-lacquered complex of halls and pathways on stilts, originally so built that commoners could visit without defiling the island with their footprints. Pricing is complex, but ¥300 will get you into the temple itself, or pay ¥500 for entry plus a glimpse at the shrine's treasures. Weddings are occasionally held there, but that doesn't bar visitors, and the priest's ceremonial dance is a memorable sight. The shrine was badly damaged by a typhoon in 2004, but repairs are largely complete and it is open again.
  • The floating torii (or gate) of the shrine, standing in the bay in front of the shrine, is Miyajima's best known symbol. Note that whether the torii is "floating" or merely mired in mud depends on the tide. If you are coming from Hiroshima the Hiroshima tourist information office will be able to tell you the time of the high tide, which is the best time to view the torii.
  • Senjokaku (千畳閣). The name means "1000 Mat Pavilion", a fairly apt description of this gigantic wooden hall which doesn't actually contain much other than empty space. It was originally built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1587. There's also a picturesque 5-story pagoda (五重塔 Gojuto) next door, and plenty of cherry trees if you are visiting in sakura season.
  • Daisho-in (大聖院), [3]. A major Buddhist temple a short distance above Itsukushima Shrine. Because it's nestled into the hills, it's easily missed by tourists, but it features a number of interesting sights and a respite from the crowds. Look for the Dai-hannyakyo Sutra (大般若経), the golden prayer wheels that are said to bring enormous fortune to anyone who touches them, and the Henjokutsu Cave (遍照窟), a fascinating and eerie collection of Buddhist icons related to the famed pilgrimage route in Shikoku. The temple hosted the Dalai Lama in 2005. Admission is free, and there is more informative English outreach than at Itsukushima.
  • There is a decent aquarium with a few seal shows throughout the day and an odd penguin march in the afternoon. It's worth a stop if you have restless kids in tow. It is however currently closed for refurbishments until August, 2011.

Do

  • Those with energy to spare may wish to hike up Mt. Misen (弥山, 530 meters) for views of the island. The hike takes about an hour, depending on rest stops along the way. Be advised that, while people of most fitness levels can pull it off, it's also not a minor exertion. Look for the signs for the ropeway, and when you reach it, just keep going. There is a less-used, slightly more strenuous (and rewarding) route that begins in the mossy park near the aquarium. This route is called the Omoto Pass. Momijidani Park (紅葉谷公園) is known for its autumn colors, and there are quite a few quiet little temples to explore along the way.
  • Those with less energy (or inclination) can cheat and take the ropeway to the top.

Buy

The World's Largest Spatula
The main shopping street between the ferry terminal and Itsukushima

Oddly enough, Miyajima is well-known for its rice scoops (杓子 shakushi), spatulaesque wooden spoons used to serve cooked rice. You can buy scoops by the truckload in any gift shop, and even gaze on the World's Largest Spatula (well over 5m long), showcased along the main shopping street.

The sheer number of souvenir shops is mind-boggling. For the most part, they all sell the same items for the same prices, although the path returning to the port from Momijidani Park features a few statuaries and art dealers with appropriately awe-inspiring prices. There is also a Hello Kitty shop on the main shopping street, not far from the aforementioned spatula, for anyone who found the floating torii just one Kitty-chan short of perfection.

Eat & Drink

There are many little restaurants in the shopping streets near the shrine. As a rule of thumb, anything out by the seafront in the restored classical houses will be expensive, while the simpler eateries in the streets will be cheaper. Refreshments are also available atop Mt. Misen, with the usual top-of-a-mountain surcharge.

Momiji manjū (もみじ饅頭) are small cakes made in the shape of a maple leaf. Traditionally, they're made with sweet bean paste, but cheese, chocolate and other variations are also available. Keep an eye out for shop windows where you can see them being made. Boxes of momiji manjū are on sale throughout Hiroshima prefecture, but Miyajima is the best place to buy them hot and fresh. A few shops will serve you tea and a sampling while you decide which kind suits you best.

Sleep

Accommodation on Miyajima is uniformly expensive and many people on a budget choose to daytrip from Hiroshima instead. But if you can swing it, a night here is definitely worthwhile, as the island is much nicer without the inevitable flag-waving and megaphone-equipped tour groups that descend during the day.

Budget

  • Backpackers Miyajima (バックパッカー宮島)[4]. A new backpackers hostel in Miyajima-guchi. Rates from ¥2,500 per night. English-speaking staff. This hostel has a Takoyaki Party every Saturday night.
  • Miyajima-guchi Youth Hostel, 1-4-14 Miyajima-guchi, tel. 0829-561444, [5]. Located near the train station and ferry terminal (walk straight out of the station and take a right at the first crossing). The Youth Hostel is not on the island itself, but does at least offer the chance to get an early start for the ferry in the morning. ¥2,600 for IYHA members, no meals offered.
  • Miyajima Tsutsumigaura Camp-jo, Tsutsumigaura, Miyajima-cho, Hatsukaich-shi, Hiroshima Pref. tel. 082-944-2903. A nice camping site at the Tsutsumigaura beach, about 4 km from the port. There are buses running between the port and the campsite from the morning until six in the afternoon (¥300). After that you'll have to walk or try to hitch a ride, so take care. The price is ¥300 per person. Clean toilets, but no shower: you have to use the bath-house a little way up at the bungalows, for an extra ¥300, it closes around 8 o'clock. The deer walk freely in the campground, so it's not advisable to leave food in the tent for the day.

Mid-range

  • Kawaguchi Inn, 469 Miyajima-cho, Saeki-gun, Hiroshima Pref. 739-0500, 0829-44-0018 (, fax: 0829-44-2361), [6]. Rooms are Japanese style without bath. ¥7350 single, ¥12,600 double, ¥18,900 triple.
  • Kokuminshukusha Mori-no-Yado (国民宿舎 杜の宿), tel. 0829 440 430, [7]. A fairly standard Japanese ryokan, only run by the government and hence a little more affordable than the competition. Lodging (per person!) costs ¥7800/8500 in the low/high season.

Splurge

  • Iwaso (岩惣), [8]. An old-school Japanese ryokan dating back to 1854, and probably the best digs on the island. Prices (with two meals) in the comparatively characterless new wing start at ¥19,000 per head and climb to a very steep ¥40,000 per head for the old wing.

Stay safe

Be careful around deer who still have their antlers

Tame deer amble around the island, harassing tourists for food. In the past, waffle-like wafers and pellets could be bought to feed to the deer. But at the end of 2007 the government introduced a feeding ban on the island. Because of this, the deer are not in a very good condition now and their numbers are declining. Additionally, the deer can be quite bold, and may root around bags or backpacks (even when worn!) for food. Further up on Mt. Misen, there are a few deer who have not had their (sharp) antlers removed, and visitors should be very careful around them.

A colony of monkeys live on Mt. Misen. There is a clearly (and hilariously) marked viewing point outside the ropeway station, but the monkeys are usually elsewhere in the forest, looking for food. They are not enclosed, so general precaution should be taken around them.

Some of the grounds are very uneven with sudden holes, so take care when walking.



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