Miyajima, the quintessence of Japan

A giant red torii emerging from the water, a temple and a tall pagoda, wooded hills overlooking the bay: that’s the extraordinary view awaiting visitors taking the ferry to Miyajima, a little island close to Hiroshima. The day I spent there is part of my best memories of Japan. The peace of the tiny lanes, the beautiful temples, the gorgeous nature offering dozens of hiking options and the best Okonomiyaki I ever ate… there was so much to see, taste and enjoy! Follow me to Miyajima, the quintessence of Japan.

📷 For more pictures have a look at my gallery about Miyajima.

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Torii, Miyajima

Getting there

Ferry, Miyajima, sunsetMiyajima is located in the Seto Inland Sea, very close to Hiroshima in the Hiroshima Bay. The actual name of the island is Itsukushima but it’s more often referred to as Miyajima, which literally means “Shrine Island”. From Hiroshima it takes about one hour to get there: first with a train to Miyajimaguchi station which is a 3-minute walk from the pier and then the ferry sailing to the island. Both are operated by the JR group and are free if you purchased a JR Pass.

Miyajima map

A map of Miyajima taken from the website miyajima.or.jp

Miyajima is mostly a pedestrian island; you won’t see many vehicles there… and you won’t need one anyway. Everything is accessible by foot from the little town where the ferry arrives. I was there during spring and the sight of the cherry blossoms in many places around the island was great, but Miyajima is also very renowned in autumn because of the beautiful colours of its maple trees.

 

Miyajima-cho

Miyajima-cho is the only village on the island. The ferry terminal is located north of it, on a nice place where you can find the statue of Taira no Kiyomori, a military leader from the 12th century, but also a lot of deer walking around the visitors. Be careful if you’re holding food or even if you have some in a bag, they will try to steal it from you!

 

From there you can either follow the water in the direction of Itsukushima Shrine (see below), walk through the village via the Omotesando Shopping Arcade where you’ll find most of the shops, restaurants and tourists, or take the much quieter Machiya Street. It’s on this peaceful lane overlooked by most of the people that you’ll reach a tiny restaurant called Kishibe, where I had the most delicious Okonomiyaki of my 2 weeks in Japan.

I wouldn’t recommend this place to big groups as there are only a dozen seats around the counter. Behind it, two old women preparing the food directly in front of you. A delight for the eyes and for the palate!

 

Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine is the most famous shrine on Miyajima, built on pier-like structures which makes it look like it’s floating on the water at high tide. The giant red torii off the shore is also part of the shrine. It is possible to visit it: it’s a one way walk and the entrance is to the north. I highly recommend to do the visit at high tide, because at low tide the water withdraws very far away, to the point where even the torii gets accessible by feet. Therefore, the view is way less magical, and sadly the huge number of tourists walking to the torii contributes to damage it.

 

Hukoku Shrine

This shrine and the five-storied pagoda next to it have been built on top of the hill overlooking Itsukushima Shrine. It’s possible to reach the shrine via some stairs. Once you’re there, keep climbing through the little lanes behind the pagoda to enjoy the best view over Miyajima.

Miyajima, Hukoku Shrine

During spring the sight is especially beautiful because of the gorgeous cherry blossoms. If you want to go a bit further and escape the crowds around the temple, take the Uguishuodo Nature Walk, a lovely and peaceful stroll that will bring you back to the entrance of the village, close to the ferry terminal.

 

Daishoin templeDaishoin temple, Miyajima

This Buddhist temple is at the extreme south of the village, at the beginning of the walking path leading to Mt Misen (see below). It might be the most gorgeous temple I visited in Japan, even compared to the temples of Kyoto.

You’ll access the temple after walking through the “niomon” gate, guarded by the wooden statues of two impressive warriors. In the complex you’ll find many different buildings and temples, all of them with their own characteristics. You’ll also come across dozens of little statues dressed with hats and scarves that are meant to protect them and keeping them warm, with extremely realistic faces. Stunning! Here are a few pictures of this fabulous place.

 

Mt Misen

Mt Misen is the highest point on Miyajima, at 535m. You can hike to its summit, beginning from Daishoin temple: expect about 1h30 to 2h to get there. It’s quite a steep path with some stairs but also a really nice walk in the forest.

 

Other option: using the cable car to (almost) the top. Whatever you decide to do, the 360° view from the top is really beautiful!

 

This is where this journey on Miyajima ends. I hope you enjoyed reading this article and if you’re ever travelling to Japan don’t miss this fantastic place!

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