Mountain View of Itsukushima Shrine's Torii Gate
Miyajima Island is a 10-minute ferry across the bay from Hiroshima and is considered sacred. It is said that the whole island is a deity and has been worshipped as such. The official name of the island is Itsukushima, but is commonly referred to as Miyajima.
The most famous landmark you will see is the giant vermillion torii gate, which is part of Itsukushima Shrine. At high tide it gives off the illusion that it is floating on the water, but at low tide you will have the opportunity to walk up to the gate. This particular torii is not only listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site but is one of the top 3 scenic views in Japan. There are a couple of routes to take to reach Itsukushima Shrine. One is through the shopping arcade known as Omotesando and the other is to stroll along the beachside of Hiroshima Bay.
Itsukushima Shrine was built in the shinden-zukuri style, which developed during the Heian Period (794-1185). Once you enter the shrine, it is a one-way route where you end up on the opposite side. Through the connecting corridors you can see how expansive the structure is. There are multiple shrines residing in the building which are dedicated to different deities. This shrine is a popular spot for Japanese weddings and sometimes you can see a ceremony happening.
Next to Itsukushima Shrine is the Senjokaku Hall, which is about the size of 1000 tatami mats. This structure was commissioned by Toyotomi Hideyoshi as a place to pray for the souls of fallen warriors. It is an incomplete structure because Hideyoshi passed away before it could be completed. Today it still remains as an incomplete structure.
As soon as you exit Itsukushima Shrine you will see the gate to Daiganji Temple. The two sculptures of Nio guardians protect the grounds. During the Meiji Restoration, the government decreed the separation of Shintoism and Buddhism. To avoid destruction, the temple was placed in charge of repair and maintenance of Itsukushima Shrine. Many of the Buddhist statues around Miyajima was moved to Daiganji. The most eye-catching statue is the Fudo-Myoo, which is 4 meters tall and made out of sandal wood. No photos are allowed to be taken of the Fudo-Myoo.
A short hike up Mt. Misen you will happen upon Daishoin Temple, which is said to have been founded by Kobo Daishi. Ascending up the stairs are rows of metal spinning wheels, which have Buddhist scriptures on them. It is said that every time you spin the wheel, it is equivalent to you actually reading the sutra. By running your hand past the many wheels, each step up the staircase becomes a form of meditation.
Throughout the day you can hear the chants of the resident monks and can even sit in one of the rooms to watch the whole process. At the top, there is an alter that has 1200 small Buddhas surrounding it. In a hidden part of the temple is the Henjokutsu Cave. This dimly lit cave is illuminated by these hanging lanterns, which give it a mysterious look. The flame inside is said to have been continuing since Kobo Daishi first lit it. Scattered all over the grounds are various statues and sculptures that are sure to leave you in awe.
The story goes that the first rice scooper was made in Miyajima. One day a monk had a dream of Benzaiten holding a lute. He traced the shape and taught the people of the island how to make what is known as the rice scooper. On this island the scooper is not only a conventional household tool, but a representation of good luck. Walking around, lucky rice scoop items can be found in various parts of the island. In Omotesando Shopping Street. you can see the largest rice scooper in the world.
If you plan on eating anything on Miyajima then you must definitely have oysters and momiji manju. Surrounding the island are many oyster farms and in the winter time they taste the best. Locals have told us the best time to eat oysters is during the Oyster Festival. It is held on the second weekend of February every year. The great thing about the festival is that all the oysters are sold at very low prices ranging from 100 to 200 yen.
Momiji manju is a buckwheat sweet dessert with various fillings. Before it was a popular food souvenir from Miyajima, but now it is representative of Hiroshima. The shape of the dessert resembles a maple leaf. It is said the former Prime Minister, Hirobumi Ito, visited Miyajima island and joked with a girl staff saying “How tasty it would be if I could eat sweets shaped like a maple leaf.” The tea house manager overheard this and decided to make the sweet by modelling it after the scattered maple leaves. On Miyajima Island there are at least 20 vendors selling momiji manju, each having their own specialty.
All around the island, wild deer can be spotted near tourist spots. In Japanese folklore the deer were considered divine messengers of the gods. Back in the day it was punishable by death if someone killed one of them. However, their divine status was stripped after World War II. Over the years they have gotten used to humans and became what they like to call “residential deer.” However, be cautious around them and throw away your trash into the bins as the deer tend to eat plastics and paper left on the ground.