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mistybleu Miyajima - A travel report by Amanda
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Miyajima,  Japan - flag Japan -  Hiroshima
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mistybleu's travel reports

Shinto meets Buddhism on Miyajima Island

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I saw the World Heritage Site O-torii Gate in pictures, long before I had ever dreamt of going to Japan. Even when I had planned my trip I didn’t think it was possible to make it there as it is was a 5½ hours bullet train ride from Tokyo.

O-tori Gate on the Island of Miyajima
O-tori Gate on the Island of Miyajima
Japan is made up of 4 main islands (Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku) and nearly 3,000 smaller ones, lying off the east coast of Asia. Its official name is Nihon or Nippon which means the Land of the Rising Sun or something close to that.

Most of the islands are mountainous with many being volcanic; last erupting in the 1700s is the dormant volcano of Mount Fuji on Honshu and Japan’s highest peak.

There are 128 million inhabitants of which most are conentrated around the big cities which includes the capital – Tokyo with 8.5 million but Tokyo is made up of several prefectures, which makes it the largest metropolitan area in the world, with over 30 million residents.

The eleventh largest city is Hiroshima (1.16 million) and is located in the south of Honshu on the coast and just off the mainland in the Seto Inland Sea is the tiny island of Miyajima (which means ‘island shrine’), formerly known as Itsukushima (named after the shrine that is found there).

Regarded as one of the three most beautiful places in Japan, Miyajima is easily recognised by the huge red O-torii Gate that guards the entrance of the Shinto Itsukushima Shrine. It is a perfect place to explore the various temples, shrines, parks, pagodas and if you enjoy walking there are many steep forests and wooded hills to occupy your time. Deer are seen in town as they roam freely on the island, as well monkeys that are found on top of Mt Misen (I also came across a snake so be careful).

For further information I found helpful.

Favourite spots:
Traditional ancient musical court dance
Traditional ancient musical court dance
On board the ferry as you depart the port (stay on the right side) the views of the gate start to appear. It is best to know when the tide is out as the mud beds are exposed during low tide, but this allows you to walk under the gate. The best time is to go in the morning – it really is an incredible sight to see, both gate and shrine appear to be floating in the sea.

The O-torii Gate leads to the Itsukushima Shrine another World Heritage Site; its origins dates back to the 6th century before being remodelled in 1168. It’s style with Shinden features and is a network of wooden pathways.

Daily there is a performance in the Itsukushima Shrine of the ‘Bugaku’ a traditional ancient musical court dance. A man performs the dance that has been handed down for generations, dressed in a traditional costume and dances to the music of the ‘Gagaku’.

It is a wonderful place to explore and if lucky to get a glimpse of a traditional wedding taking place.

What's really great:
The wedding party
The wedding party
I got a Japan Rail (JR) Pass before leaving the UK; it cost around £151, which seemed like a lot but was really value for money, as just one journey from Tokyo would have cost as much.

JR is an intricate railway network that offers both local trains and the Shinkansen (high speed train lines), which run at speeds of up to 300km per hour. From Tokyo it takes around 5 hours by these trains or considerably less time if I’d flown in at Osaka airport.

It was prudent to reserve seats (this can be done up to 10 minutes prior) as this ensured that my journey was comfortable as sometimes the unreserved carriages can be really overcrowded. Once at Hiroshima Station I took the JR Sanyo Line to Miyajima-guchi Station to catch the 10-minute ferry to the island.

Daishoin Temple
Daishoin Temple
Be sure to pick up a map from the Info Desk inside the port; it gives a good understanding of the layout with suggested routes:

Momijidani Park is located at the foot of Mt Misen and is wonder to see in autumn when the maple leaves turn red, in spring like most of Japan is awash with cherry blossom.

Mt Misen (535m) is the highest point on the island and is reached by a cable car that connects Momijidani Park with the Shishiiwa Station on top.

The Daishoin Temple is a wonderful ornate building as it was the HQ of the Omuro branch of Buddhism.

Tahoto was built by the priest Shukan in 1523 and has a mixture of Chinese, Indian and Japanese architecture makes it quite interesting.

The 5-storey Pagoda stands 28 metres high and is also mix of Japanese/Chinese architecture; if possible it is worth having a peak inside.

Senjokaku is a wooden hall and is considered unfinished as it is without sections of the ceiling and walls, but in other part is decorated with many large paintings.

Iwaso Ryokan
Iwaso Ryokan
Travelling to Japan is made a little more special by staying the traditional accommodation. These are called Ryokan and can be quite expensive, but they give an example of bygone days in Japan.

There are two types – a true inn that is usually family run; rooms are enclosed in wood with authentic screens, futons, tatami mats, communal baths and they serve an evening meal with a local Japanese breakfast etc. They probably sleeps a maximum of 12. Then there are the concrete traditional ‘styled’ inns, with rooms that are still minimalist, but as they cater for international tourists with televisions, fridge and tea facilities plus some with en suite facilities.

There are about six Ryokans on the island ranging in price from 10,000 to 50,000 yens. At the top end is Iwaso, located in the pretty setting of Momijidani Park; the service is said to be exemplary but it comes at a price.

But staying in a Ryokan is really a must thing to do in Japan.

Hot oysters
Hot oysters
The island has a few local delicacies and they include ‘anago-mesh’ (boiled conger eel on top of rice) and various oyster dishes. They have little shops and stalls around the Omostesando Shopping Arcade that serves hot cooked oyster which is quite surprising for Japan, where most seafood is eaten raw. Also ‘momiji manju’ – a maple leaf shaped waffle that are stuffed with various sweets fillings including chocolate, figs and nuts etc. They are really nice and make good presents.

Among the other traditional souvenirs include wooden crafts such as rice scoops, Hariko (paper dolls) and Miyajima’s earthenware bells.

On the island there are many little restaurants for lunch that are quite reasonable, setting you back ¥2,000 (FX 1 local currency equals - £ = ¥168, € = ¥135, $ = ¥101), but they all close on or before 5pm.

Other recommendations:
Hiroshoma Castle
Hiroshoma Castle
Hiroshima is a city that will be in our memories as the site where the first atom bomb was dropped. On 6th August 1945 the bomb was detonated over the city in a mushroom cloud burst that when it hit killed around 70,000 people with another 200,000 after. At the epicentre site is the Peace Memorial/Museum and one of the only buildings that was left standing now called the A Bomb Dome.

Also of interest is Hiroshima Castle which was rebuilt in 1957 and now the centre of the sporting area. It is said that when the bomb hit, the impact caused the original wooden structure to topple over, but it didn’t burn. However the wood was unusable so it was later destroyed and only a few beams remain inside the museum.

Published on Thursday October 23th, 2008

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Wed, Nov 26 2008 - 10:41 AM rating by bineba

Wonderful report and amazing photos!

Thu, Nov 06 2008 - 04:48 AM rating by rangutan

Another excellent report and amazing architectural photography!

Sat, Nov 01 2008 - 10:00 AM rating by jenny2

Enjoyable, nice pictures

Tue, Oct 28 2008 - 04:11 AM rating by louis

Another perfect read with lovely photos

Mon, Oct 27 2008 - 01:54 PM rating by magsalex

Has increased my desire to visit - not sure about trying the conger eel though!

Sun, Oct 26 2008 - 01:57 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Excellent report in a most fantastic place

Sun, Oct 26 2008 - 08:34 AM rating by gloriajames

Excellent! Cant wait to go to Japan now!

Sat, Oct 25 2008 - 06:50 AM rating by marianne

What a joy to read, complete, informative and beautiful

Thu, Oct 23 2008 - 02:40 PM rating by robynallen

This is great. Extra info on places I plan to visit in 2010.
Great report. I love the photos!

Thu, Oct 23 2008 - 02:00 PM rating by krisek

Amanda, a great report full of very practical information (thanks for the ferry hint), and great photographs. Many thanks indeed for sharing.

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