Our next destination would be the nearby island of Itsukushima. It is more popularly known as Miyajima “Shrine Island” and is famous for its large Tori Gate Shrine – Itsukushima Shrine.
To get there would involve a train, a boat and a walk to our Ryokan (a Japanese style Inn). It was decided that we would not need all our luggage so we left it at the Hiroshima JR Station overnight.
Japan Tip #4: Luggage can be left (even overnight) at any JR Station. Link for more information #TheMoreYouKnow
We got the ferry from Miyajimaguchi, after a small train ride across Hiroshima. Deer roam free on the island as they are thought of as sacred in the native Shinto Religion. They are considered ‘messengers of the gods’. We were greeted by traditional drummers as we made our way from the ferry to the main part of town – a warren of streets containing restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops.
Lots of souvenir shops. Miyajima has an interesting souvenir – a large wooden spoon (used to serve cooked rice without impairing the taste) called a shamoji.After walking through the town and dropping our bags off at our ryoken we struck out to explore the island.
The first major Shrine to visit was the Itsukushima Shrine. It consists of two main buildings, the Honsha Shrine and the Sessha Marodo-Jinja, 17 other buildings and an intricate network of walkways that stretch out on top of the mud banks. Located further out is the famous Torii Gate. 6 of its buildings have been designated by the Japanese Government as National Treasures. The entire complex is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It was originally built in 593 during the Suiko Period but what stands presently was built later in 1168. The architecture and geography is by design, at high tide the shrines appears to float on water and it is built on the outskirts of the island as the entire island is deemed to be a god in the Shinto Religion.
The Torii Gate is the main draw for the Shrine. Is it said that commoners had to steer their boats through the gate before approaching the shrine. It is fifty foot tall and built of decay-resistant camphor wood painted vermillion.
Another landmark is the 5 storey pagoda located on a nearby hill. Constructed in 1407 it enshrines Yakushi Nyorai Zazo, the Buddha of Medicine and is said to be have been made by Kobo Daishi – a Japanese Buddhhist Monk who founded the Esoteric Shingon school of Buddhism. He was also a poet and a scholar but was mainly famed for his calligraphy and engineering. He created the modern day Japanese Written language.
Next door to it is a large long building called the Senjokaku “pavilion of 1000 mats” and this is the largest single structure on the entire island.
I am the Mountain You are the Sea
After lunch, Okonomiyaki again!, we climbed up to the peak of Mt Misen (535m tall and the highest point on the island). Surrounding the peak is primeval forest and the foot of the mountain has Momijidani-Koen National Park. We took the more scenic path – the Daishoin Route (3kms). A lot of the path is paved (over 2,000 steps to the summit) and as we left the town below we passed the Takinomiya Shrine and a temple called Daisho-in.
It is the 14th Temple in the Chugoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage Route and is famous for its maple trees. It is considered the most important temple on Miyajima.
Further up we passed the Shiraito Falls, a small but quite beautiful waterfall and Makuiwa Rock a natural rock face ravine. Our entrance to the top was marked by the Niomon Gate.
Our reward? Some amazing views back across the rest of the island, Hiroshima and the Japan Inner Sea beyond.
Due to the failing light we decided to take the Miyajima Ropeway cable car back down. Opened in 1959 this pair of cable cars opens up Mt Misen to many visitors.
As we said earlier, we would be spending our night in a traditional ryoken – Auberge Mizuhasou. Instead of a bed we had tatami-matted floors made from rice straw. The doors slide open instead of on a hinge. Instead of a swimming pool and gym we had communal baths (ofuro). Instead of wearing robes or dressing gowns we had the opportunity to adorn a yukata (summer casual kimono).
The best change was the meal. Instead of a three course meal or set-menu we had the most welcome opportunity to indulge in a kaiseki – a meal of numerous small dishes. As part of this there was a number of Oyster (local delicacy) dishes. Some of which were already on the table – only hidden!
After dinner we went back to the Itsukushima Shrine to see it lit up at night and its base swallowed by the high tide.
Miyajima had some amazing Sakura Trees. After 5 days we were definitely not over it…
Next up is Part 4: Nara the old Imperial Capital for some more temples, shrines and native deer.