Miyajima

Miyajima is a small island off the coast of Japan and can be reached by ferry from Miyajimaguchi, which is a short train ride from Hiroshima. The island is most famous for its ancient temples and floating torii, and for its beautiful scenery. The ferry from Miyajimaguchi takes you on a route via the floating torii which is a great way to arrive at the island.

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Miyajima’s iconic view is that if the torii floating out to sea which acts as the entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine that sits on stilts over the water when the tide is in. The tide was actually out when we visited during the afternoon, but you can imagine the effect of it looking like it’s built on the water.

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There are a number of other temples in this sacred island and we also walked up to the Daishoin temple which has rows of Buddha statues that have been given knitted hats.

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Visiting the summit of Mount Missen is a must for the views over the Inland Sea. You can climb the whole thing, but as we were only in Miyajima for the day we decided to take the “ropeway” or cable car. The first, and longest cable car has a beautiful view over the mainland and over towards Hiroshima. You then change to another cable car for the final part (these cars run about every fifteen minutes so there may be a wait) which takes you across the side of the mountain with the first incredible view over the Inland Sea. At the top of the cable car is a small observation platform where you can take in the view over the sea dotted with small neighbouring islands. However, if you’re fairly fit, the best views are at the summit. There’s quite a frustrating descent from the cable car station followed by the final climb to the observatory, but it’s worth it for the 360º views out over the Inland Sea and the Mainland.

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Miyajima is a very small town with one main shopping street, Miyajimacho, along which you can buy souvenirs and the maple-leaf-shaped cakes that are a local specialty. On the corner of Miyajimacho is a building displaying the world’s largest rice scoop which is has been on display since Itsukushima Shrine received World Heritage status in 1996, and it’s pretty impressive.

We stopped for lunch at Yakigaki no Hayaki which served the popular local specialty, oysters. Outside you can watch them grilling the oysters in their shells as you wait for a table at this popular lunchtime spot. We didn’t have to wait too long though and we were soon enjoying grilled oysters, fried oysters, local grilled eel accompanied of course by rice, miso soup and some salad.

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A word of warning – beware of the deer! I remember deer in Nara being quite…er…attentive especially when you have food, but I felt they were almost viscous in Miyajima. We bought ice creams to eat while we watched the tide come in just before the sun started setting and a deer practically chased me around and started to get quite aggressive. The locals have their ways of dealing with them though and I will never forget the gleeful look on an old Japanese shop keeper’s face as she followed one deer out of the main shopping street with a spray bottle full of water.

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We ended our day watching the sunset over the floating torii. For a while I wasn’t sure that it was going to be very dramatic as there was a fair bit of cloud. We almost started walking back to get the ferry when the colours started to grow more and more intense. Eventually the sky was a canvas of pinks, reds, and oranges and we sat in awe as the torii was framed by such a spectacular sky. My photo doesn’t begin to do it justice.

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Finally, the sun dropped behind the mountains and we decided to get some dinner. There are limited options in Miyajima at that time of night as most visitors are either staying at one of the islands ryokan or inns, or they head back to the mainland on the ferry. We managed to find a second floor restaurant with a view out over the torii, where we had Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki and an ice cold beer. We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner and caught one of the last ferries out of Miyajima.

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