Day Trip to Miyajima
Itsukushima Shrine and its “floating” great torii gate are what drew us to visit Hiroshima in the first place. A few months ago, my Japanese friend Anna told me that her favorite place in all of Japan is Miyajima, because of the breathtaking Shinto shrine that sits right on the bay. After googling images of the shrine (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), I was convinced that we had to go see for ourselves!
In Hiroshima, you pay the fare for the electric streetcars right before you get off. We wanted to purchase the 1-day unlimited ride + ferry pass (a good deal! see details at bottom of post) but the driver shook his head. Resigned to the fact that we’d have to pay the normal fare (and then buy the pass at an actual station), we were pleasantly surprised when the driver refused our fare, got off the streetcar with us, called a conductor and explained to the new guy that we wanted to buy the passes!! It was extremely nice of him!
On the ferry from Miyajimaguchi to Miyajima, we could see the floating torii gate in front of Miyajima island – the contrast of the bold vermillion shrine over the misty grey water was beautiful! After we picked up a tourist map, we walked towards Itsukushima shrine. We were forewarned about the deer that roam the island – friendly but always on the lookout for food (or anything edible, including paper maps and tickets). The deer reminded us of our trip to Nara and its deer (equally aggressive). This time, we had to be extra careful to make sure the deer stayed away from Baby M (there was an “incident” in the afternoon, when we were changing her diaper and a deer came out of nowhere and got super close to licking her bottom…).
There were so many tourists jockeying to secure the best spot to get a picture with the iconic torii gate in the background. And a company was selling tickets for a ride on a rowboat, up to the torii gate. We arrived during high tide and the morning mist still lingered, giving the shrine and island a mysterious feel. I snapped some photos of Alex holding Baby M but didn’t want to wait around for a family photo, so we walked along windy roads lined with shops (selling everything from souvenirs to meat buns to the ubiquitous Miyajima momiji manjū, a pastry — with any sweet filling you can imagine — in the shape of a maple leaf). Some stores had glass windows, allowing us to watch the auto-production line making the pastries. Alex and I were mesmerized… once an engineer, always an engineer, I guess. (But seriously, the machines were so cool!)
When visiting Itsukushima Shrine, we saw a bride and groom taking wedding photos. What a breathtaking backdrop! Itsukushima is elevated on piers, so that it, too, looks like it’s floating during high tide. I love the orange/red color and couldn’t take enough pictures. The sun started peaking out from behind the clouds, so we decided to have an early lunch and take the ropeway up Mt. Misen, before it got too crowded.
Unfortunately, there were a bunch of steps leading to the ropeway station, so Alex carried the umbrella stroller and I wore Baby M in the Ergo. We stowed the stroller at the station (in the office), bought tickets (discounted with the 1-day pass), and boarded the cablecar. We had to get off the first cablecar, walk up two flights of stairs, and transfer to another cablecar (to change “direction”) and went up to Shishiiwa Station, 430m above sea level, and as far as the cablecar would go. We could see people at the top (Mt. Misen Observatory), which is 535m above sea level. Alex didn’t think the view was going to get much better, but I wanted to see some of the temples further up the mountain. The hike was a bit strenuous (when you’re carrying an extra 20+ pounds in the front) and by the time we got to the temples, we were 2/3 of the way to the top. Alex put his foot down, so after a water break, we went back down to the ropeway station. (Baby M must like the sound of my pounding heart because she fell asleep immediately whenever I started huffing and puffing…)
By the time we got back to sea level, it was low tide. Hundreds of people were walking in (on?) the bay, where there was previously water. We walked up to see the five-storied pagoda before walking up to the no-longer-floating torii gate, being careful not to get too muddy. Up close to the gate, it looked much larger than it appeared when “floating” from afar. We could see barnacle growing on the wood, up to the high tide water level. The tourists were all taking pictures, but the locals were squatting with small shovels and buckets, collecting shellfish. We saw lots of people leaving the bay, carrying heavy buckets full of clams, on their way home for dinner.
We had originally planned on staying for dinner and seeing Itsukushima Shrine lit up before taking the ferry back but around 6 PM, most of the shops were closed, even the restaurants. People do stay overnight (we had wanted to, but couldn’t find a reasonably-priced hotel), so where were they supposed to eat? Instead, we bought two momiji manjū pastries (green tea and custard) for the road. The pastries were pretty disappointing (the outside was soft and cake-like, totally not what I was expecting). By the time we got back to downtown Hiroshima, Baby M was overtired and cranky. We wolfed down some ramen in Hondori and quickly walked home.
Alex and I really enjoyed Miyajima. We didn’t have time to explore all of the temples and shrines, and only covered a small portion of the island. I’d definitely recommend visiting Miyajima if you’re ever in Hiroshima. Itsukushima Shrine and its floating gate are breathtaking, and it’s no wonder that it is listed as one of Japan’s three most scenic places (Nihon Sankei).
1 Day Streetcar & Ferry Pass: 840 yen for adults.
It includes unlimited use of the Hiroshima Electric Railway (streetcar) and the Miyajima Matsudai Ferry (not the JR Ferry) for 1 day (not a 24-hour period). Children under 6 are free (up to three children per paying adult). If you plan on taking the streetcar to and from Miyajimaguchi and then the ferry, definitely buy this pass. You’re saving money right off the bat. Then, if you want to take the ropeway, instead of 1,800 yen (per adult), you get 350 yen off (if I remember correctly) with the pass. There are some other discounts (for the pastries, etc.) but I don’t remember exactly.
And use this website to see when high tide and low tide are, each day: