Miyajima (宮島) is an island off the coast of Hiroshima, Japan.
Miyajima is among Japan's Top 3 scenic sights noted by scholar Hayashi Gahō in 1643It is famous for its mountaintop views and "floating" shrine, which is a World Heritage Site.
The proper name for the island is Itsukushima (厳島). Miyajima is just a popular nickname meaning "Shrine Island".
Strict measures are taken to ensure that the island retains a classically Japanese Edo-era look. Deer wander freely through the streets and parks. They are wild animals, fearless and inquisitive, and will chew clothing that's lying around. The seafront promenade is particularly attractive, especially later in the day when the rampaging tour groups head home and the stone lanterns are lit.
Like most of Japan, Miyajima was once a volcano.
Although the island has a population of only 2,000 people, it welcomes 4 million visitors per year.
Miyajima has been considered a holy place for most of Japanese history. In 806 AD, the monk Kōbō Daishi ascended Mt. Misen and established the mountain as an ascetic site for the Shingon sect of Buddhism. In the years since, the island's Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines have maintained a close relationship. 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.
- Miyajima Tourist Association, 1162-18 Miyajima-cho (Inside the ferry building), ☎ +81 0829-44-2011, .
Miyajima and the coastline
Miyajima - Itsukushima area
Most tourists visit Miyajima as a day trip from Hiroshima; however, those staying overnight get a different experience after the crowds leave in the evening.
JR Ferries and Matsudai Ferries (10 minutes, ¥180) depart from Miyajimaguchi Ferry Terminal (宮島口), 21km southwest of Hiroshima, every 15 minutes during the day. Cars, motorcycles, and bicycles can be transported for additional fees. However, parking is hard to find on the island and many sights cannot be reached by car.
From JR Hiroshima station, the ferry terminal can be reached either by train (¥400, 25 minutes) or by tram line #2 (¥270, 70 minutes). The tram line also passes by the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima.
Aqua Net Hiroshima operates hourly scenic ferries to Miyajima from Hiroshima Peace Park (45 minutes, ¥1,000)
Setonaikaikisen operates high speed ferries from the Prince Hotel (26 minutes, ¥1,850). These ferries are much more expensive that the other options but take a scenic route.
Miyajima is small enough to cover by foot, and there are English-language signs throughout the island. Taxis can be taken from the pier to the hotels and residential areas, but not the tourist sights.
The orange pathways on stilts of Itsukushima Shrine
Standing in the bay in front of the shrine, the floating torii is the "gate" to Itsukushima. Whether the gate is "floating" or merely mired in mud depends on the tide. The best time to see the torii is at high tide. Check online to find the time of the high tide or ask at the tourist information center. The torii was severely damaged, and then rebuilt, in the 1870s as a result of an anti-Buddhist movement.
- Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社), . Mar-Oct 6:30AM-6PM, Nov 6:30AM-5:30PM, Dec 6:30AM-5PM, Jan-Feb 6:30AM-5:30PM. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Itsukushima 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. The shrine was supposedly built by Saeki Kuramoto in 593. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times. Weddings are occasionally held at the shrine, but that doesn't bar visitors, and the priest's ceremonial dance is a memorable sight. ¥300 for temple entry, ¥500 for entry plus Treasure Hall.
- Toyokuni Shrine (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, intended to be a Buddhist library, but it was never completed. 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. ¥100.
- Daisho-in (大聖院), ☎ +81 0829-44-0111, . Because it's nestled into the hills, this Buddhist temple is easily missed by tourists, but it features a number of interesting sights and a welcome 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 88 Temple Pilgrimage in Shikoku. Free.
- Miyajima Public Aquarium (宮島水族館), 10-3 Miyajima-cho, ☎ +81 0829-44-2010, . 8:30AM-5PM daily. A collection of more than 350 sea creatures and daily animal events such as seal shows and penguin marches. It's worth a stop if you have restless kids in tow — about a twenty minute walk from the pier. ¥1,050.
- Municipal Museum of History and Folklore of Miyajima, 57 Miyajima-cho, ☎ +81 0829-44-2019. Tu-Su 8:30AM-5PM. A small, charming collection of folk crafts and pieces of Miyajima history, many donated by locals. The main building was originally the residence of a soy sauce mogul, built about 170 years ago, and has a traditional garden out back. ¥300 (¥170/150 for children).
Out for a hike on Mt. Misen
- Mt. Misen (弥山), (530 meters). If you have energy to spare, Mt. Misen offers gorgeous views of the island and sea. The hike can take about an hour to two and a half hours, depending on rest stops along the way and your level of fitness. Look for the signs for the ropeway, and when you reach it, just keep going. There is a route called the Omoto Pass that begins in the mossy park south of the aquarium and climbs quite steeply through a charming forest. Those with less energy (or inclination) can cheat and take the ropeway to an observatory near the top and hike from there (¥1,000 one way, ¥1,800 round trip). The ropeway closes at 5PM (last car down 5:30). It is a 30 minute walk from the end of the ropeway to Mt Misen, you have to climb about 150 height meters after going down the first ten minutes.
- Momijidani Park (紅葉谷公園). The ropeway station is in the middle of Momijidani Park, but the park is worth a stroll even if you're not headed up. Known for its autumn colors, there are quite a few quiet little temples to explore along the way, and many of the island's hotels are tucked away here.
- Making Momiji Manju. Inside the Shishiiwa Station of the ropeway, on the second floor, there is a chance to make your own momiji manju, a fun way to end the ropeway trip. The price is ¥300 per person, but if you are a couple they will give you a slight discount of ¥500. It takes about 20 minutes to make the momiji manju, and the workshop starts every 30 minutes from 10AM until 3PM with a 1.5 hour break from noon until 1:30PM. You need to register first, but that's easy to do. Just go to the coffee area near the vending machine and ask to put your name down and pay. Although it may sound a little cheesy, the results are delicious and by far the most enjoyable and cheap snack to be found before heading back down the ropeway.
- Paddle Park, 1-2-9 Monomi Higashi Hatukaichi- Shi, Hiroshima, ☎ 0829-50-4340, . 11:00-20:00. Paddle Park is a small kayak/camping guide company run by a nice local from Hiroshima. They have a half-day kayak tour that takes you to the Miyajima Torii (yes, you can paddle through the gate), and a brief rest stop on the island that features a free sampling of the local maple cakes. They also have a full day course and an overnight course that includes camping and meals, and will feature kayak trips to the smaller islands around the inlet sea. Arrangements can be made through the Backpackers Miyajima, and website (if you can read/speak Japanese). ¥6000-¥10000.
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), spatula-esque wooden spoons used to serve cooked rice. You can even gaze upon the World's Largest Spatula (well over 5 meters long), showcased along Omotesando, the main shopping street.
The sheer number of souvenir shops is mind-boggling. For the most part, they all sell the same things for the same prices — rice scoops, miniature floating toriis, and souvenir boxes of sweets are by far the most common items. (Even Hello Kitty has her own Miyajima-themed shop on Omotesando.) However, the path between the port from Momijidani Park has a few statuaries and art dealers with impressive wares and similarly impressive prices.
Another local treat is deer feces (鹿の糞). Not the real thing, it's just crunchy chocolate in the shape of droppings. It's delicious and will surely take center stage when Grandma asks your kids what they did in Japan.
There are many little restaurants and vendors 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.
If you don't eat seafood, be sure to notify your hotel well in advance, as that's almost certainly on the menu. Oysters are a popular dish, though availability may be seasonal.
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 on Omotesando where you can see them being made — most will be open roughly 9AM-6PM. 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. One piece costs about ¥80, be sure to compare prices for different packagings, as some shops have higher prices for larger packages.
Age momiji (揚げもみじ饅頭) are fried momiji manju. They have a crispy surface, but inside the cake is very soft and sweet. They are only sold on Miyajima (try koyodou 紅葉堂 on Omotesando). A single piece costs about ¥130. But take care not to be robbed of your purchase by deer — they are attracted by the sweet smell.
- Kakiya, ☎ +81 829-44-2747, . Oyster restaurant.
- Momijidou, ☎ +81 829442241, . Try the maple buns with bean paste!
- Sakamoto Kashiho, ☎ +81 829-44-0380, . Maple buns and tea.
- Yakigaki No Hayashi, ☎ +81 829440335, . An oyster bar with a Miyajima theme.
Miyajima beer is made at the Miyajima Brewery on the island. You'll find cans of the beer, with a deer on it, at various stalls throughout the island. There is also a beer garden located off the main shopping street where you can sample the breweries various beers while gazing out onto the water.
- Cafe Lente, ☎ +81 829-44-1204, . A relaxing cafe with a waterfront view.
- Sarasvati, ☎ +81 829-44-2266, . A great coffee shop in a converted factory.
Accommodation on Miyajima is more expensive than in Hiroshima. But if you can swing it, a night here is definitely worthwhile, as the island is much nicer without the flag-waving, megaphone-equipped tour groups that descend during the day. However, almost everything is closed at night, so expect more of a relaxing evening if you stay overnight.
- Backpackers Miyajima (バックパッカー宮島), 1-8-11 Miyajima-guchi, Hatsukaichi-shi (On [[Honshu]], close to the ferry port with service to Miyajima; there should be plenty of fliers around if you get lost), ☎ +81 0829-56-3650, . Not actually on Miyajima, but close to the ferry terminal. The English-speaking staff holds barbecues and dinner parties. Free WiFi, shared bathrooms, kitchen, and paid laundry is available. Dorm bed: ¥2,900.
- Miyajima Tsutsumigaura Camp-jo, Tsutsumigaura, Miyajima-cho (Buses run between the port and the campsite from the morning until 6PM (10 minutes, ¥300)), ☎ +81 0829-44-2903, . A nice campsite at the Tsutsumigaura Beach, about 4 km from the port. Cabins and outdoor grills are available as well. There are clean toilets, but no shower: you have to use the bath-house a little way up at the bungalows, for an extra ¥300, and it closes around 8PM. The local deer walk freely around the campgrounds, so don't leave food unattended in the tent while you're away! Reservations are required. ¥300 per person basic fee; Tent rental: ¥2,100–¥3,460; Cabin: ¥16,690.
- Kikugawa Guest House, 796 Miyajima-cho, ☎ +81 0829-44-0039, . An older building with 8 Western and Japanese-style rooms and private baths. Western style room: ¥5,000-6,800/person; Japanese-style room: ¥7,300-8,800/person off/on-season, with discounts for kids; meals extra.
- Kokuminshukusha Mori-no-Yado (国民宿舎 杜の宿), ☎ +81 0829-44-0430, . A fairly standard Japanese ryokan, but it's run by the government and hence a little more affordable than the competition. Rooms ¥7,800/8,500 per person in the low/high season.
- Kotobuki, 515 Miyajima-cho, ☎ +81 0829-44-2526, . Some rooms have private baths. Japanese-style rooms from ¥7,000 per person (minimum two), meals extra.
- Mikarikyu, 849 Miyajima-cho, ☎ +81 0829-44-2111, . A large, mostly Japanese-style hotel, but a few comparatively dingy Western-style rooms are available. Rooms have private baths, but two impressive public baths with views alternate between genders from AM to PM. Rooms from ¥13,950 per person (meals included).
- Momiji-so, Momijidani Park, ☎ +81 0829-44-0077, . Five Japanese-style rooms with only basic amenities but lovely forest views and a restaurant with nice outdoor seating. ¥8,400 per person — ¥10,500 with breakfast, ¥16,800 with dinner.
- Ryoso Kawaguchi, 469 Miyajima-cho, ☎ +81 0829-44-0018, . About ten minutes from the pier. Rooms are Japanese style, with two common baths and a third floor lounge. Japanese or Western-style dinner and breakfast are available for an extra charge. ¥6,500-7,000/person.
- Iwaso (岩惣), 345-1 Miyajima-cho (Momijidani Park), ☎ +81 0829-44-2233, . An old-school Japanese ryokan dating back to 1854, and probably the best digs on the island. Pick-up available from the pier if you call ahead. Rooms (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.
- Jukeiso, 50 Miyajima-cho, ☎ +81 0829-44-0300, . Very much a luxury stopover, but well worth the cost. Includes choice of Japanese or European dinner and a Japanese breakfast. Good views over the shrine and torii from the tatami rooms and their restaurant/lounge. Rooms from¥8,000 for one person to ¥48,000 for a large group room.
- Kinsui Villa, 1133 Miyajima-cho, ☎ +81 0829-44-2131, . Japanese-style rooms with themes based on the view or the decor (such as The Cat and The Owl); Western-style rooms available for single travelers. The landlord takes particular pride in his hot springs. Rooms ¥19,500/22,000 off/on-season.
- Kinsui Villa Annex, 1165 Miyajima-cho, ☎ +81 0829-44-2191, . Japanese-style rooms, including ones for single travelers, and a spa with a view. They offer healthy meals that are designed for "light-hearted couples" and "happy ladies" (so be prepared to choose appropriately). Rooms ¥10,500/13,000 off/on-season.
- Miyajima Grand Arimoto, 364 Minami-machi, Miyajima-cho, ☎ +81 0829-44-2411, . Sleek new hotel offering Japanese and Western-style rooms. Meals are included in room rate — with cheaper meals for cheaper rooms — though upgrades are available for an extra charge. Rooms from ¥15,750 per person.
- Watanabe Inn, 215-1 Takimachi, Miyajima-cho, ☎ +81 0829-44-0234, . A small inn close to Daisho-in, a nice spot as long as you don't mind a walk (about twenty minutes from the pier). Each room has a private bath made of Japanese cypress wood. The restaurant is particularly well regarded. A great place to pop in for lunch. Rooms from ¥15,750 per person (meals included).
Tame deer amble around the island, harassing tourists for food. While somewhat more restrained than their counterparts in Nara, they're still eager for a hand-out. Feeding the deer is banned in Miyajima, which is leading to starvation. The deer will routinely root in around bags or backpacks for food (even while said bags are being worn). Feeding them is a sure fire way of getting the deer to stalk you and chew at your belongings or shirt tail. Further up on Mt. Misen, there are a few deer who have not had their (sharp) antlers removed, so take care if you see one.
A colony of monkeys live on Mt. Misen. There is a clearly (and hilariously) marked viewing point outside the ropeway station at the peak, but the monkeys are usually elsewhere. When they are hanging around by the station, standard monkey rules apply: don't stare, don't leave food around, and don't make sudden movements toward them. They're fairly accustomed to humans wandering around in their domain, though, and aren't likely to take much interest in you, unless you have food in your hands.
While people of most ages and fitness levels can handle the hike to Mt. Misen, it's also not a minor exertion, and there are no guide stations along the way.
If wandering the momiji trail, where the path splits a short way below the lower ropeway station, be mindful not to stray onto private property. However, feel free to go up the stairs and take a picture of the beautiful view. The owner of the restaurant claims that he owns the land on top of that hill, but that is not true. Do not hesitate to refuse his offer for an expensive drink.
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