Miyajima island is located, as one might expect for an island, just off the coast of Honshu – about forty minutes from Hiroshima which makes for an easy day trip. Miyajima is revered as one of Japan’s holiest sites, and home to several important Buddhist and Shinto shrines (Miyajima actually means “shrine”).
When we arrived we were met by the world’s most adorable welcome committee – Miyajima’s famous deer, which wander the streets by the ferry port to the delight of visitors. They are quite used to humans, and very friendly!
We sat down to check our map under a sign which told us we must absolutely, totally not feed the deer. Unfortunately, I don’t think the deer read the memo, as they made light work of Craig’s map.
A third of a map lighter, we left the deer and made our way to the tori gate. This famous “floating gate” sitting just off the sea wall is one of the icons of Japan, and graces many a travel guide cover. When the tide is in, it looks as if it is sitting on top of the waves.
At the peak of Miyajima island is Mount Misen, which has been a holy Buddhist site for over a thousand years after being consecrated by a monk. Getting to the mountain is a steep hike through dense, shaded forest. Or you can do what we did, and get the cable car.
The view from the peak is stunning – a breathtaking look across the bay to favourite fishing spots and uninhabited islands.
We’d been fortunate enough (unlike with Kyoto) to time our trip for a beautiful spring day. We sat savouring the warm spring breeze and congratulating ourselves on picking such a perfect afternoon for our visit.
At the top of the hill is also a squat little temple, which contains a holy fire that has burned for over 1,000 years and is designated as a “lovers sanctuary”. The flame was used to light the Flame of Peace in Hiroshima’s Peace Park, and the room was filled with eye-watering smoke from the fire and the candles lit in prayer.
Since gravity was on our side this time, we opted to hike back down the hill. A wise choice, as the forest path was pretty steep and we spotted a few people puffing their way in the opposite direction.
As we neared the bottom of the hill, we stumbled into the Daisho-In temple – a Shingon Buddhist temple which is considered one of the most honoured in Japan. We walked up the steps into the complex, running our hands along the daihannyakyo sutra prayer wheels that lined the stairs; doing so is supposed to bring us fortune.
Inside the main hall were over 1,000 little wooden carvings known as Fudo myo-o, which apparently were donated by temple worshippers.
Heading back down, we took a side path and found ourselves in amongst hundreds of tiny statues, all wearing hats!
I had assumed we’d somehow arrived at a garden gnomes football convention, but actually these were Rakan statues who depict disciples of the Buddha. They all had different facial expressions and looked very pleased with their knitwear!
Miyajima Island was an easy day trip that had it all: a hike, beautiful scenery and a bit of culture. A perfect way to make the most of Japan’s lovely spring weather!
If you want to go to Miyajima Island
- The journey is a straight train from Hiroshima station to Miyajimaguchi, which takes about 25 minutes and can be done using the Japan Rail pass.
- From Miyajimaguchi, there is a JR ferry (also included in the rail pass) which is clearly signposted from the station and leaves frequently. The journey is about ten minutes.
- The cable car costs ¥1,000 (about £6.50) per person for a one way trip.
- Maps are available when you arrive on Miyajima Island. Don’t feed yours to the deer.