Confirmed: Miyajima is as nice as it looks

Posted by in Mike's blog

I was reminiscing over some pictures of our travels from our first year in Japan when I realized that I never posted anything about Miyajima.  OOPS!

Normally a day spent on one of Japan’s most famous picturesque islands would be something to write home (blog?) about, but our time in Miyajima was overshadowed by the rest of our spring vacation trip – the one where we went to bunny island.  Not only had I written nothing about it, but I hadn’t even posted any pictures!  At the time, I was so excited to take pictures of the scenery and the ancient shrine that I even went to the bother of bringing a tripod.

Better late than never!  It’s only been 5 1/2 months…

Our trip to Hiroshima prefecture spanned 5 days during Mary’s spring vacation.  The days were (one at a time): train -> bunny island -> Hiroshima -> Miyajima -> train.  3 of those 5 days were very eventful.  We decided to dedicate a whole day to exploring Miyajima.

See? It’s RED!

Miyajima had 5 “main” attractions for us, and we got to partake in all of them.  The one that ends up on all the post cards is Itsukushima shrine and its “floating” torii gate.  From what we read, Miyajima island was considered so sacred back in the day that a shrine was built on stilts so that people could visit without actually touching land.  A gate was built IN the water to complete the effect.  The tide comes and goes, so sometimes the whole shrine is surrounded by water, and other times (like when we went) it was sitting in sand and mud.  Fortunately the gate had enough water around it to achieve the “floating” effect.  The shrine itself would have been just another shrine for us (we’re into architecture SO MUCH MORE than the spiritual shrine-y stuff), except it had water in some places and it was BRIGHT RED.  The colour made it cool.

This was as close to their natural habitat that we saw the deer in.

The first attraction we saw greeted us when we got off the ferry:  Deer.  We had been on an island surrounded by friendly animals a couple of days prior, so the novelty had worn off a little.  It was still pretty neat to be so close to giant near-domesticated deer though.  Unlike the bunnies of Okunoshima, these deer have a reputation for eating anything that they can put in their mouths.  We’ve heard stories of them eating cameras.  There are signs all over the island to remind tourists to clean up their garbage.  I’m sure lots of them have had their fill of plastic, styrofoam and chopsticks over the years.  We didn’t contribute to their unhealthy eating choices.

We finally made it to the top of Mt. Misen. There was a guy running a small shop that was in desperate need of renovation – which he should have been able to afford with the prices he charged for bottles of water.

We got a sweet deal on a transit passes for Hiroshima called the “Miyajima free pass”.  With them, we had 2 days of unlimited access to the city’s light rail transit system, a round trip on the ferry to Miyajima AND a round trip on the cable car that goes up Mt. Misen on the island.  We wanted to make the most of our passes. so we took the cable car up the mountain.  We knew before we got on that we would have to continue walking around 1km from the cable car station to the top of the mountain, and we thought that this would be an acceptable walking distance.  In the end, it was (we made it).  We somehow failed to account for both the uphill nature of the walk, and the speed at which the Bunny likes to travel.  It took a while.

There are a bunch of signs on the way up that ward visitors about the last cable car of the day.  Were we to have missed it, we would have had to walk down the mountain in its entirety.  The line to get on the cable car was quite long, so we did a little bit of math in our heads and decided that we should be very, very early so that there would be no chance of missing (let alone riding on) the last car down.

Not shown: World’s largest rice cooker.

We wouldn’t have travelled very far for this, but since we were there anyway we made a point of visiting what was supposed to be the world’s largest spatula. I had a problem with this.  What’s shown above may translate to “spatula”, but to me it’s clearly a rice scoop.  I was expecting a place a little bit like what’s shown in this video.  I was disappointed.  Miyajima claims to be famous for its traditional rice scoops, and there were many souvenir ones to choose from at alarming prices.  I’ve never (ever!) felt like I’ve needed more than one rice scoop in my kitchen, so we passed on the “spatula” souvenir opportunity.

I wasn’t sure if I’d eaten oyster before I had this.  Either way, it was the best first impression possible.

Sampling the local delicacies is one of the best parts of travelling.  In Japan we have often been faced with challenges when we try to do so because most places seem to have a LOT of local foods, and some are more prominent than others.  In souvenir shops there are always “special” items that represent the area that they’re from, and we’re not always sure what to try.  We tried 3 things in Miyajima:  Momiji manju (a cake-like dessert with filling), deep fried oysters and grilled oysters.  Our plan was to enjoy some oysters for supper after a long day of hiking and sightseeing, but we ran into a bit of a problem.

Miyajima shuts down before suppertime.

Every restaurant was closed.  We walked for a while looking for any place that was open, and we found nothing.  It was a Sunday, so it’s possible that things would have been open later on Fridays and Saturdays, but we were shocked to find no one serving meals at 5:00pm.  There were still many ferries departing so we weren’t stranded… we were just hungry.

I found the grilled oyster pictured above outside of a bar-type establishment.  I think it’s supposed to be an appetizer.  We found a place on the mainland that served us a delicious fried oyster meal, and it was probably a bit cheaper because of its location.  By the time supper was finished it had gotten dark, so we went back to our CouchSurfing host’s apartment and took a much needed rest.