You’ll probably recognise Miyajima even if the name isn’t familiar. It’s home to one of Japan’s most famous temples, which appears to float on the water at high tide. The shrine’s torii gate is out at sea, making the whole island a holy place.
Miyajima is a nickname meaning “shrine island”, the island is actually called Itsukushima. There has been some kind of shrine on the island since the 6th century but the current design was probably put in place around the 12th century by the warlord Taira no Kiyomori. By placing the torii gate out at sea, the whole island became sacred. The shrine and gate are very susceptible to damage from typhoons and storms so the current building has been rebuilt several times.
The island was included in Hayashi Gahō “Three Views of Japan” in 1643 which has given it huge cultural significance to the Japanese. It is also protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. As a result the town surrounding the shrine still retains a historic feel, with tame deer wandering the streets.
The island can be reached by a 10 minute ferry trip from Miyajimaguchi (a suburb of Hiroshima). The JR ferry to the island accepts rail passes but otherwise a ticket costs 170¥ each way. To get to the ferry terminal from the station follow the signs through the underpass to avoid the busy road crossing – it is not far and shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes to walk there.
Alternatively hourly ferries run from Hiroshima harbour. These take a scenic route and take around 50 minutes each way. However these are aimed at tourists so can be very expensive – 1500¥ upwards for a single trip.
Once on the island most sites can be reached on foot. There are taxis on the island and hotels will often make arrangements to pick guests up from the ferry pier. Bicycle hire is also an option if you wish to travel further afield.
Where to Stay
Miyajima can be visited in a couple of hours, so it is not necessary to stay on the island overnight. However there are several pleasant ryokans in the main town which is much more peaceful after the tourists have left for the day.
This shrine is incredibly picturesque especially at high tide. The shrine was designed as a series of pathways to allow visitors on to the island without actually touching it with their ‘unclean’ feet. At low tide it is possible to walk out to the torii gate, where it is lucky to leave a coin in the cracks at the base of the gate. Entry to the temple complex is 300¥ or 500¥ if you also want to visit the Treasure Hall. Noh plays and weddings are sometimes performed here, with visitors allowed to watch.
Approximately 20 minutes from the pier, this aquarium has around 350 different species, including a penguins and displays by seals and dolphins. Entry is 1400¥ for adults, with reduced rates for school children and under 4s getting in for free.
Mt Misen rises 530m above sea level and has several shrines and historical monuments dotted around its slopes. The hike up takes just over an hour and isn’t particularly hard, although there are no guide stations along the way so make sure you wear suitable shoes and take water. The peak can also be reached via cable cars (1000¥ one way, 1800¥ return) although it is a further 30 mins walk from the cable car to the peak.
These maple leaf shaped cakes are a specialty of Miyajima and are traditionally filled with red bean paste. You can get many different flavours now including chocolate, green tea and cream cheese. These are sold individually for around 80¥ but souvenir boxes can be bought for much more. Also try fresh Age Momji
where the cake has been fried so it is crispy on the outside. You can make your own momji manju at the Shishiiwa Station at the top of the ropeway – reserve a place at the counter upstairs.