Famed for its giant floating Torii Gate, the island of Miyajima makes for the perfect day trip from Hiroshima. It can easily be done in a day, but staying the night makes for a less rushed experience, as we discovered.
See the sacred deer.
The moment you step off the ferry from Miyajimaguchi, you’re met with resident deer roaming the streets. It’s an endearing sight, but these little critters – believed to have been on the island for over 6000 years – are absolute thieves in a cute outfit. If they’re not sunning themselves, they’re on the prowl for any plastic bags or bits of paper you may be holding, of which they’ll swiftly snatch from your grasp.
As cunningly cute as they may be, only feed them pellets sold specifically for that purpose. Food for humans doesn’t agree with these guys, so be kind, not stupid.
Hit the shops.
Miyajima’s main shopping street is Omotesando – a pedestrian thoroughfare lined with shops, restaurants and plenty of food to snack on. Follow your nose and discover small kiosks tempting you with skewers of grilled seafood.
Or dive head first into oysters, a rather large variety that’s well-known in these parts. Try them fresh, grilled, crumbed or grilled on rice cakes!
Many places sell the quintessential Miyajima snack called Momiji Manjyu – which is basically a dense maple leaf-shaped pastry filled with sweet red bean paste. There are other flavours to try, too, and they make the perfect edible souvenir.
Visit temples and shrines.
One of Miyajima’s most striking landmarks is Goju-no-to, or the Five-Storied Pagoda. The 27.6 m vermilion-coloured structure is dedicated to Benzaiten – the goddess of music, art, poetry and wealth. It was originally built in 1407, then reconstructed in 1533.
Next to it is Senjo-kaku, a shrine built in 1587 by Hideyoshi Toyotomi in remembrance of his fallen warriors. Many artworks can be seen on bulkheads inside the shrine, but thanks to power diverting to Tokugawa Ieyasu and not Toyotomi’s heirs, the entrance and ceiling were never completed.
The most famous shrine on Miyajima is the UNESCO listed Itsukushima Shrine, which has a 1400 year history. The island has been a spiritual and religious sanctuary since ancient times, and this shrine was built over water because the island was originally believed to be too sacred for common folk to walk on.
The current shrine – dating from the 13th century – comprises several shrines and a theatre, interconnected with bridges and boardwalks. Entry to the complex is ¥300.
The best known landmark on Miyajima is that impressive Great Torii Gate, which represents the boundary between the human and spirit worlds. The current torii was erected in 1875, making it the eighth gate built since the original one went up in 1168.
At high tide it appears to float on water, but come low tide, the shallow inlet clears and visitors can walk around it. Either way, it’s an impressive sight, and I can understand why it’s regarded as one of Japan’s top three views.
Considering the tiny size of the village, there’s a lot to be tried if you’ve only allocated a day for Miyajima. Thankfully everything is within short walking distance, so good food and a decent drink are just steps away from one another.
It’s best to pace your intake on small snacks like oysters, cakes and chocolate-dipped bananas if you want to fit in lunch, but there’s always room for coffee.
Miyajima Itsuki Coffee is one of the island’s go-tos for a jolt of caffeine, so if it’s standard drip, an Americano or a bitch-slapping espresso you need, these guys can accommodate. Non-coffee drinkers can indulge in tea or a fresh fruit smoothie, or go all out and grab half & half soft cream dusted with Oreo crumbs!
With view over to Itsukushima Shrine and the Great Torii, Cafe Lente is a very nice spot to enjoy a delicious chicken curry (¥800) or veg risotto, a coffee or piece of cake. Wine and beer is available if you’re up for it.
Had it not been for the sweet lady that enticed us in to Ittouan, we probably would have kept on walking. This tiny restaurant – which is nothing more than a ramshackle hut – can be found on the main waterfront street between the ferry wharf and Torii Gate.
The seating area is as casual as can be – plastic chairs and beaten-up tables – in a leafy outdoor space. The food is all about udon, croquettes, rice bowls and small snacks, and none of it will break the bank.
Our choices: niku udon (beef noodle; ¥600), niku donburi (beef on rice; ¥600) both of which come with sides of flavoured boiled egg and delicious braised radish. The furai mochi (rice cake; ¥200) is divinely crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, lightly doused with brown sugar syrup.
As daylight fades and the day-tripper numbers dwindle, the town begins to wind down with shops and many eateries closing their doors. We were hoping to grab a few beers at Miyajima Brewery, but it had closed its doors, as well.
Was it because it was winter, or maybe its non-trading day, who knows?
The town became disturbingly desolate at night and nothing seemed to be open. No evening drinks? Nowhere for dinner?
Luckily the pub at Kinsuikan ryokan was open, so their 5-6.30pm happy hour served us well. Seeing nothing else was open for dinner, we settled in and enjoyed a delicious udon hot pot (¥1500) filled with seafood, veg and shrimp tempura; plus a tempura udon (¥1080).
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