An island rich in both nature and culture, Miyajima is the ultimate day trip from Hiroshima
Just a short train and ferry ride away from Hiroshima (less than an hour away), sits one of Japan’s most beautiful islands. Miyajima is famed for its enormous red ‘floating’ torii gate, sacred deer population and Daisho-in temple, among other attractions. While many people head to the island when visiting Hiroshima, Miyajima has enough sights to warrant a full day of exploration.
As with many parts of Japan, Miyajima is at its prime during the spring and autumn months. Towards the end of March, cherry blossom trees shroud the islands historical shrines and temples in soft pink sakura petals, creating a picture-perfect scene. Wander the foreshore at this time of year and prepare to be showered with falling flowers. A few months later, autumn transforms the maple trees into palates of vibrant orange and red, a breathtaking contrast against the red Shinto shrines and pagodas such as the five-storey Toyokuni – a UNESCO World Heritage Site that the Japanese Government declared a national treasure.
Miyajima’s most famous residents, the Sika deer, have inhabited the island for centuries. Typically found wandering the streets and temples, these four-legged locals aren’t afraid to beg for food or attention. Interestingly, the tame deer are not only a delight for tourists, but they’re also considered sacred messengers sent from the Gods. Up until the 17th century, harming the deer was punishable by death. While quite docile, Sika deer are still wary of humans and tend to reside in parks across the island.
The Great Torii gate is undoubtedly the most recognisable monument on Miyajima. Part of the Itsukushima Shrine, the imposing red gate symbolises the gateway from the regular world to the sacred in the Shinto religion. Visit at high-tide and the torii gate will appear to be floating on water while its location, on the west of the island, provides stunning views at sunset. It’s estimated that the original shrine was constructed back in the 6th century and has been expanded over the years to include several halls, a prayer room, and a Noh theatre.
A short walk away from Itsukushima Shrine sits a unique place for Buddhist worship. Daisho-in temple is nestled at the bottom of Mount Misen, Miyajima’s highest peak and its buildings are staggered up the slope – follow the path marked by hundreds of Buddhist statues. The complex was created by a revered monk named Kukai, who is credited with founding Shingon Buddhism. Its location amidst the forest makes it an enchanting place to explore and get away from the bustle of Miyajima’s main streets.
While the harbourside is generally dominated by souvenir shops, there are also many restaurants. Oysters are the main event here due to the thriving farms in the Seto Inland Sea. There’s even an oyster festival held every February. Whether you prefer oysters grilled, deep fried, in a hot pot or smothered with sauces, there’s a variation to suit. Those with a sweet tooth should opt for momiji manju — a pastry traditionally filled with red bean paste, wrapped in cake dough and shaped like a maple leaf.