Miyajima: A Classic Reason to Visit Japan

This month’s Japan Blog Matsuri, hosted by none other than myself at A Modern Girl, is organized around the theme “Reasons to Visit Japan.” We had a number of amazing submissions and the results will be posted shortly, but I thought I’d whet your appetite with my own contribution. There are tons and tons of reasons to visit Japan: food, people, fashion, gadgets, sightseeing… It’s so hard to pick just one! So, I chose a classic: Miyajima.

Miyajima, also known as Itsukushima, is a small island about an hour away from Hiroshima in western Japan. The island is best known for the Itsukushima Shrine, which is a UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the “Nihon Sankei,” Japan’s three most celebrated scenic spots. Above, you can see me standing in front of the famous “floating torii,” erected such that its base is alternately submerged or exposed depending on the tide. I thought I would take you on a little tour of this beautiful little island.

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The journey to Miyajima starts with a ferry ride. As the mainland gets farther and farther away, the vermillion of the floating torii and the Itsukushima Shrine becomes visible against the green hills and the blue of the water.

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The shrine itself is really very striking. Like the torii, the base of the shrine is submerged during high tide, giving it the appearance of floating. It’s low tide in the picture above—you can see the exposed posts.

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Animals are another attraction of Mijyajima—deer and monkeys, to be precise. Deer are sacred in Japan, and you often find them around shrines. In places like Nara and Miyajima, they wander freely around the extensive grounds. The deer in Miyajima seem particularly relaxed. While the deer in Nara are often keen to chase sightseers down for biscuits, the deer in Miyajima seem much more relaxed and inclined to laze around in the sun.

As for the monkeys, they live up in the hills of the island, which are accessible via a short cable car ride (or a longer hike). The scenery is really worth seeing—the picture above shows just one of the amazing views from the top.

I have yet to see any real-life monkeys, but the park boasts some of my favorite Japanese signage of all time. This sign might be the one I love best.

For those with the means to do so, I’d highly recommend saying in a ryokan (a Japanese-style inn) on Miyajima. I was lucky enough to stay in one just a short walk from the shrine (you can see it outside the window above), courtesy of the Critical Language Scholarship Program. We were treated to amazing food and service, took advantage of the in-house onsen (hot springs), and generally had an amazing time. The room was set up as above when we arrived, and we were served tea and snacks, and when we returned from dinner, our futon had been laid out and prepared.

My favorite memory of that particular trip was going out for a long evening stroll. They light up the shrine and torii at night, and the waterways are lined with lanterns. When we went out, the water level was just right for us to wade out to the very base of the tori without danger. We’re standing in water in the picture above. We stayed out there for about an hour, just talking and enjoying the feel of the cool water on the hot summer night. We weren’t the only people who had this idea either—we met some pretty interesting characters under that torii.

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I close with one of my favorite photographs, taken on a trip to Miyajima in 2006. I really love this place and highly recommend it to all visitors to Japan.

The results of this month’s Japan Blog Matsuri will be posted very shortly!

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