Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Miyajima : An Introduction

On our recent trip to Hiroshima, we also visited Miyajima.
Miyajima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea is less than hour away from Hiroshima and can be visited as a day trip from Hiroshima. Miyajima has been classified as one of the three scenic views of Japan collectively known as "Nihon Sankei". The other two are Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture and Amanohashidate in Kyoto Prefecture. 
While it's name Miyajima means "Shrine Island" , the formal name of the island is Itsukushima, which itself is derived from the shrine, Itsukushima Jinja.  For centuries, the island has been regarded by the Japanese as an Island of Gods. 
The Itsukushima shrine is a World Heritage Site.( More about the shrine in a separate post). The Shrine and its famous Torii Gate are built over water and appear to float in the sea during high tide. Interestingly, the Floating Torii gate is the symbol of Miyajima. 
However at low tide, the water drains out to the bay and the floating effect is not visible. Visitors can walk upto the Torii during low tide. It is recommended that visitors should check the tide timings before planning their visit. (Tide timings can be checked on :Miyajima Tide Table )

The island is also home to deer which are free to wander around the sites.

In the Shinto faith, deer are believed to be messengers of God and as such deer are allowed to wander freely in places like Nara and Miyajima. Since they are regarded as holy messengers, they cannot be harmed. Visitors need to be careful around these deer who are always looking for a snack ! 


Visitors can also trek up the Mt Misen and enjoy views of the island and the Seto Inland Sea. In 806 AD, the monk Kobo Daishi ascended Mt Misen as part of a pilgrimage, proclaiming Mt Misen as a holy mountain for the Shingon sect of Buddhism. 

A visit to Daisho-ji temple is also recommended. I will cover this temple in a separate post.

Most tourists visit Miyajima as a day trip but those willing to enjoy the island at leisure, can stay at one of the island's ryokan. The shrine and the torii gate are illuminated after sunset and those staying overnight in Miyajima can enjoy the view. Visitors can also view the illuminated shrine from cruise boats in the evening. 

Like every tourist spot in Japan, Miyajima has its' special souvenir (omiyage). Interestingly, the most popular souvenir from Miyajima is the ' Shakushi', the wooden rice scoop. Many stores sell this popular souvenir. Shakushi also serve as votives at the Itsukushima Shrine and Daisho-ji temple. 
The World's Largest "Shakushi" which measures around 5 meters long is also on display along Omotesando,the main shopping street on Miyajima.

Miyajima is well known for its oysters and many food stalls sell grilled oysters.

Momiji Manju, a speciality of Hiroshima and Miyajima is another popular souvenir. 
Momiji Manju are small maple shaped cakes with a traditional sweet red bean paste stuffing. These days the momiji manju also comes with chocolate, green tea or custard stuffing. 
We purchased our  Momiji Manju omiyage from Miyajima.

Another popular snack are maple shaped fried fish cakes. 

Some ice cream shops on Miyajima also sell Deer Dropping Ice cream.
As gross as it may sound, the deer droppings are in fact crunchy chocolate made to resemble deer droppings. Our daughter was not willing to try them though !     

Visitors can reach Miyajima by ferry from the Miyajimaguchi ferry terminal on the mainland. 
The Miyajimaguchi ferry terminal is a short walk from the JR Hiroshima station. Visitors can reach Miyajimaguchi by train( 25 minutes). Visitors can also ride the tram (Hiroden) from Hiroshima to Miyajimaguchi. The tram ride is slightly cheaper but takes 70 minutes to reach Miyajimaguchi. 

JR Ferry and Matsudai Ferry companies, transport visitors from Miyajimaguchi to Miyajima. Ferries leave every 10 minutes and one way fare is 170 yen per adult. The last ferry from Miyajima departs around 10:00 pm. ( Click here for JR Ferry Schedule)
Some ferries also transport motor vehicles to the island, but parking on Miyajima is limited and expensive. No bridges connect Miyajima to the mainland but paid parking is available at Miyajimaguchi. 

Useful websites : 
http://visit-miyajima-japan.com/en 
http:// www.miyajima.or.jo/english/index.html  

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