A visit to Miyajima island near Hiroshima was recommended to me by a friend. Without that we would probably not even consider and totally miss this place which turned out to be a decent match even to Mt Fuji. So now I am fulfilling my duty of passing the recommendation on =)
We did Miyajima (and Hiroshima) as a day trip during your stay in Kyoto. Travel took away a big chunk of the day so we had to skip some interesting things =( If I knew more about Miyajima beforehand I would make sure we have a less restrictive travel plan…
Miyajima (actually called Itsukushima but who cares) is reachable by ferry from multiple locations in Hiroshima, which include the famous Peace Park, the port, and the Miyajima train station connected to the main train station of Hiroshima by a JR train. The ferry that goes from Miyajima is actually also a part of JR network so you could use your JR Pass here which basically means you don’t even need to pay anything to visit the island!
The ferry ride takes about 20 minutes which fly very fast when you’re surrounded by beautiful views of the bay and the hills of Miyajima rising high from the water.
Most of the people come here to see the island’s main temple and its huge torii gate which, at high tide, seems to be floating in the water. Both are easy to spot from the ferry.
The first surprise came upon us right as we disembarked: we were surrounded by deer!
Of course we knew about places in Japan with free-roaming deer, one example being the ancient town of Nara where the deer are a huge tourist attraction. But we didn’t know they were a thing here at Miyajima (and had been quite sad to not be able to squeeze Nara into our itinerary).
The animals are not afraid of people and used to begging for food, sometimes quite aggressively.
If you aren’t holding food in your hand, the deer would completely ignore you. While you should not feed them (especially human food), you can try to fool the animal and get some attention by collecting into your hand some dry leaves that lie around on the floor 😀
Following the flow of tourists and deer, you will eventually arrive to the main landmark of Miyajima – the Itsukushima temple. During the high tide, the temple is sitting right on top of the water.
Its torii gate appears on many postcards and stereotypical tourist guides to Japan =)
But even despite being well-known and iconic, the island is not too crowded (comparing, for example, to Kyoto).
It felt a lot like people come to Miyajima exclusively for the temple and the gate and don’t even know there is more interesting stuff here. Only a few find their way to the top of the island even though it’s very accessible thanks to a cable car. The beginning of the ropeway is a bit hidden inside of a pretty Japanese garden among creeks, ponds, and waterfalls.
The gondola shoots up into the sky and gently carries its passengers above a sea of trees: a large part of the island is a protected natural area.
The views here already make it easy to forget how to breathe, but try to keep your awe until the view platform with its panoramas of the bay, coastal cities and countless heavenly islands covered with virgin forests.
Having some time and energy in reserve, one can get even higher – to the neighbouring summit – but only by foot. A walk through the natural reserve takes about 40 minutes one way and has, I think, some temples and shrines along the path. As you might have guessed, here we ran out of time and had to pass on this =(
The touristic area around the pier contains a few ryokans, traditional Japanese style hotels, which often include termal baths for their guests. Staying in one of them will relieve the burden of hurrying to the last ferry, and you will also get an opportunity to enjoy Miyajima without tourists after they depart in the evening and before they arrive in the morning.
Since travel to Miyajima always goes through Hiroshima, it would be a shame to miss a chance to have a look at the city itself. The most convenient way for that would be to take the ferry to the Peace Park which is located in the very heart of Hiroshima. The park is build around the so-called “A-Bomb Dome” – remains of one of the buildings destroyed by the infamous atomic bomb.
The whole place has really strange energy. Right now it is a quiet park along a river, full of trees, but it is easy to imagine the vivid city and the beautiful building that were here before, and then – an explosion, a fire, black nothingness, and melting fragments of metal… And now it’s just this.
Close to the epicenter of the explosion the city has been rebuild and is now a typical modern city center with tall buildings and neon ads.
Unfortunately, the war didn’t spare many beautiful buildings including the famous Hiroshima castle. The current building is a replica which has been restored from scratch. Sadly, I do not know more about it, because, as we underestimated the time needed for Miyajima, we also didn’t manage to get to the castle while it was still open (everything closes so early in Japan).
Miyajima is just an unbelievable, heavenly place, and was one of the top highlights of our Japan trip. If you go there, I will say that again, make sure you have enough time (especially if you’re also interested in Hiroshima). The best option is to have an overnight in a ryokan on the island, after which you can easily jump on a ferry right to the Peace Park and spend the second day exploring the city before taking a train that would bring you to your next Japan destination =)