Miyajima: Iconic symbol of Japan ⛩

After cleverly sorting our luggage into:
Suitcase A. Useful Stuff 
Suitcase B. No longer Useful Stuff (eg. summer clothes, hiking gear and souvenirs), and 
Carry-on bag C. Overnight Stuff for Miyajima Island, 
we arranged for our Hiroshima hotel to send A to our accommodation in Fukoako, and B to Kyoto, with the kitty cat transport people. 

Takuhaibin is a parcel courier service, most often used for overnight delivery. It is highly convenient, reliable, secure, and – notably, very economical.

There are several companies that offer the service, but our favourite is Yamato with the cute logo of a mommy cat carrying her kitten.

We took the JR Sanyo line from Hiroshima (bound for Iwakuni) to Miyajimaguchi Station, from where it was only a short walk to the Miyajima ferry terminal. We were impressed by the slick operation because there were hordes of people heading across to the island, but because there is a ferry every 15 minutes, queues move relatively quickly. 

We had to work out that you first have to queue to pay your Y100 visitor’s tax (recently implemented in October 2023 to combat over-tourism) and only thereafter can you join the line for the ferry, which is then free if you have a JR pass, like we did. Soon we were aboard for a 10-minute ferry ride across the stunning Seto Inland Sea. 

It was a gloriously sunny day with no rain expected so we experienced calm waters.

We passed close to the floating oyster farming platforms. These rafts hold up the oyster lines. 

Each wooden platform has on average about 400 lines of oysters hanging below! Apparently the oysters get attached by hand. What a job that must be, because each line is 10 meters long, and holds between 300 and 500 oysters, meaning approximately 160,000 oysters per platform. 

(My perfunctory research reveals that there are an estimated 18,000 platforms raising oysters in this area.) No wonder Hiroshima alone is responsible for 60% of Japan’s oysters!

As the ferry positioned itself for an enticing first view of the iconic floating O-Torii gate, everyone on board rushed to the starboard side to catch a glimpse and take a photograph. The ferry tilted significantly, saluting the bright red beacon. Unfortunately the sun was shining directly into our eyes, so it was not ideal to take a pic, but this did not stop anyone. Very soon we were able to disembark. We stashed our bursting-at-the-seams overnight bag and our two (necessary but annoying) umbrellas in a coin locker. We’d been invited by our ryokan to drop off the locker key at any time and they would do us the courtesy of collecting our bags and delivering them to our room at no extra charge. This country! 

Miyajima is officially named Itsukushima, but the word Miyajima is Japanese for “Shrine Island”. The unique “floating” Torii gate is ranked as one of Japan’s top three views. It’s a part of the nihon sankei, literally meaning “3 views of Japan”.

The first item on the agenda was to take a short stroll from the ferry terminal to Itsukushima Shrine and marvel at it’s iconic red torii gate. It was hard to pause and admire the other features, (another wooden torii gate, fierce statues, traditional stone lanterns and the enthusiastically welcoming deer) because the floating structure was so compelling.

We were lucky that our first encounter with the famous gate was at high tide. The impact of the giant structure, apparently floating on the water, is quite spectacular. We were also able to watch a tourist boat glide along and around the red pillars, providing a sense of scale and adding to the story. 

The great gate’s dimensions are impressive: it is 16 meters tall and weighs 60 tons. Located 160 meters away from the shrine, the original torii was built more than 1,400 years ago and has had to be reconstructed several times throughout its history. Made from camphor trees, the pillars measure about 10 meters in circumference at the base. We were also fortunate with the timing of our visit, as the entire gate had been completely surrounded by scaffolding and screened off with a protective net for the repair work from June 2019 until Nov 2022.

Scaffolding covered the entire gate for two years! We were really lucky to see it freshly renovated. (Photo credit: www.shorttraveltips.com)

Like the torii gate, the buildings of the shrine itself are built over the water. It is suspected that a version of Itsukushima Shrine was built as early as the 6th century C.E. However, the version that would most likely be familiar to us today was built by the military leader Taira no Kiyomori during the Heian Period (12th century). In 1996 it was internationally recognized for its religious, cultural and historical significance and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The best thing about the shrine in my opinion, is the view from the water with the verdant hills of Mount Misen in the background, and the red details making a bold statement when viewed across the water.

The shrine looks lovely from the outside but seems largely to be a covered boardwalk on stilts above the water, with the traditional Japanese roof. If I’m totally honest we were pretty keen to explore the striking tiered pagoda that was beckoning ahead as well as the forest and mountain side trails, so we probably didn’t give it our full attention.

Itsukushima Shrine is a Shinto shrine. Shintoism is an ancient belief system that originated in Japan. It is believed that the Gods control nature and protect us, it is also believed that they dwell in shrines. So, when people visit a shrine, believers pay their respects to these Gods so they may continue to look after the people. The Itsukushima Shrine is home to three sister gods, (Ichikishimahime no Mikoto, Tagorihime no Mikoto, and Tagisuhime no Mikoto) They are Gods of the sea and storms. 

Miayajima is renowned for its sika deer (also known as the Northern spotted deer or the Japanese deer, and is a species of deer native to much of East Asia) There are apparently around 500 of them on the island. These deer were once considered sacred – messengers of the Gods. 

This breed is on the small side, and they’re very used to people, so we could easily approach and pet them. We were warned though, as cute and friendly as these deer look, they aren’t shy about trying to snatch snacks from anyone who leaves food unguarded. Tourists are advised not to feed them, but they completely help themselves! If it looks tasty, especially anything in a paper bag, they will dive right in! Geoff found himself the victim of an over zealous deer who swiftly sniffed out his breakfast croissant and demanded to share. 

 It’s not only about food either, they are just as happy to chew on your jacket or pamphlets protruding from your pockets. (Maps, passports and JR passes have been known to go the hard way.) Most of the male deer who wander around the populated areas of Miyajima have had their antlers removed. Nevertheless, we met a few spirited deer sporting a full rack.🦌

We headed up the steep stairway to the Daisho-in Buddhist Temple. It is a massive complex of buildings and gardens, covered with water features and intriguing statues. 

Most impressive of all is the Five-Story Pagoda (Goju-no-to) a wooden pagoda built in 1407. Standing over 27 metres tall, the vermillion building is a beautiful example of traditional Japanese architecture.

The pagoda is dedicated to the Buddhist God of Medicine, the clever design of the structure means that it has been able to withstand multiple earthquakes over the centuries without incurring serious damage.

Centrally located on one of the island’s hills, it towers above its surroundings, making it a beacon on Miyajima. 


We followed some deer who were trotting along a track at the base of the mountain. They led us to Momijidani Park. This is a beautiful area located at the foot of Mt. Misen. More than 700 maple trees thrive in the park, making it a popular spot to enjoy the autumn colours. We were lucky to see a few golden, red and orange trees, despite the fact that autumn was particularly late this year. We spent time admiring the gorgeous bridges, the pristine scenery and trying to get pictures of the ever present, but hard to photograph, deer.

Mount Misen is the principal mountain on the island, standing tall at 535m. Since Miyajima was known since ancient times as a sacred island where gods dwell, Mount Misen has been virtually untouched by humans, leading to a unique ecosystem of rare plants and wildlife in their natural habitat. For this reason, the entire mountain has been designated as a national natural monument. 

Most people stop at the shrine, snap a few photos of the Torii gate, get their map eaten by a deer and take the next ferry back. Some of the more adventurous stop at the shrine, snap a few photos, zoom up the mountain on the Miyajima Ropeway, and get their map eaten by a deer. The most adventurous hike up Mt. Misen (and probably also get their map eaten by a deer.)

We belonged to the middle category. It seemed to be the most popular choice and had a substantial queue of people waiting patiently at a sign that indicated “60 minutes”. The wait was fairly accurate and in under an hour we were whisked up the mountain in a cable car in a mere 13 minutes.  The sudden steepness is quite breathtaking as you glide above the deep ravines and forested cliffs of Miyajima.

The ropeway involved a two-part route, first in a 6-man cart, stopping at Kayadani Station 🚡 whereafter we changed to catch the second cable car housing 30 people up to Shishi-iaw Station. 🚠 

It was a beautiful sunny day and we enjoyed clear views across the Seto Inland Sea, across to neighbouring islands and right over to the mainland where the city limits of Hiroshima extend. We munched on our mandarin oranges – no deer up here to steal our snacks! We strolled around the view site and lazily opted not to take another short but sweaty hike to the summit.

Back at sea level we strolled past the brightly coloured food stalls selling squid on a stick, octopus balls and fried crumbed oysters. We were getting rather peckish!

Miyajima’s Omotesando Shotengai is a shopping street that stretches about 350 meters, and is lined with lots and lots of stalls, shops and restaurants. It is probably the busiest place in all of Miyajima, and was the main street even back during the Showa Period (1926–89). The shops were mostly souvenir stores selling gifts or specializing in momiji manju cakes.

We really needed to take a load off and luckily found a perfect place for lunch shortly before it closed at 2pm.

Once we’d navigated the simple electronic ordering system, while following our usual insanely complex process of dashing between the mocked up dishes on display in the window, trying to match them to the images on the machine, while simultaneously holding up a Google lens camera to attempt a translation (often unhelpfully giving you the Japanese name in western writing or offering an unappetizing description such as “pork with rice”). Then there is the matter of paying. We had to wrap our head around paying (inserting a random amount of cash) before you choose what to eat 😆 Fortunately, as with all things in Japan, they are not trying to cheat you and change is expertly issued at the end together with printed slips to instruct your server. 

Fake food display in the window
Geoff's choice with local oysters
What I got. Not bad!
We’d planned to try the famous momiji manju - traditional, bite-sized cakes shaped like a little maple leaf, usually filled with red bean paste. The queues for this delicacy were crazy, but later we ended up missing out!
The ordering system: touch screen with a place for entering cash and receiving food tickets.

As the sun set, there was a certain tranquillity about the island. It becomes a peaceful place where deer wander the streets as locals. We strolled through quiet streets, passing the machiya houses (traditional wooden townhouses that function as both a residence and place of business) closed up for the evening

Staying overnight is a special experience as the island slows down and gets even more magical when the ferries stop and the tour groups and day-trippers are gone. By now it was low tide and the sun was sinking over the horizon. It was fascinating to observe the day trippers who were now able to walk beneath the torii gate that had been so well submerged earlier.

We made our way through the village to our ryokan, Jukeiso. Check-ins are not allowed until after 2:00 or 3:00 PM, but it was already close to 5. A rather steep climb afforded us breathtaking views of the mountainside, the village and the iconic shrines. We were offered green tea and shown to our beautifully spacious room, sparsely decorated (as we have come to expect) with nothing but tatami mats, a low table and cushions. 

Someone was despatched to collect our bag from the ferry terminal locker. We had a gorgeous view of the red pagoda on the mountain side. We were exhausted from a full day on our feet and to be honest we could have done with collapsing on a proper bed. We guiltily decided to haul out the stored futons instead of waiting for the customary and rather ceremonious preparation that would only happen after dinner.

After a much needed snooze, we hastily stowed our bedding again and headed off for our pre booked private Onsen. Our aching muscles really benefited from the warm water and it was so nice to be able to enjoy it together.

Geoff went exploring for food options, only to return empty handed, other than for some beautiful shots of the Torii gate flood lit at night. The entire place had shut down for the evening and there was not a single store or restaurant open after 6pm.

To be honest, it did us good to miss a meal and turn in early. We layered up the mattresses to get maximum comfort and slept the sleep of the exhausted!

We were up early to catch the early ferry. It’s a bit of a stroll and we were  distracted by the relatively deserted environment and the playful deer frolicking on the shore.

I can see why many travellers recommend more than one night here!



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