A visit to Hiroshima can be exhausting. Thank goodness for the island of Miyajima, just south of town, where a visit is rejuvenating and uplifting. It is a great counter to the emotional drain of the Peace Park in the center of town.
Miyajima is actually just a nickname for the island; it means "shrine island." The real name is Itsukushima and the island holds a long and storied history of religious significance. It was in 806 CE that a monk ascended the mountain on the island and established it as an ascetic site for the Shingon Buddhists. The island also has great significance in the Shinto religion as well, and the two have coexisted in an impressively symbiotic manner through the years. This is a great thing for visitors as the two present great sites to visit in a very condensed area.
Perhaps the most famous site on the island – and a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is the Itsukushima Shrine. Known mostly for its floating torii gate, the shrine complex is actually on stilts to help preserve the sanctity of the island. It doesn’t hurt that the stilts also keep the temples out of the water as the tides roll in, but the idea of keeping the commoners off the sacred soil is pretty nifty, too.
The temple itself includes a number of buildings, all lacquered in bright red, but the focus is the "floating" gate. It doesn’t really float; it is solidly planted in the ground just off-shore. But when the tide rolls in the base goes underwater and the visual is awesome. There are boats that offer tours of the gate, taking passengers out to see it up close. There is also a kayak rental shop on the island if you want to get up close on your own. Or, you can do what most tourists do and just take a photo from the shore, either inside the temple grounds or out. That’s what most the folks I saw were doing, including some incredibly cute kids dressed up in their finest.
The other main shrine complex on the island is the Daisho-In. For me this one was much more impressive. Maybe because it wasn’t packed wall-to-wall with tourists. Maybe because it seemed more dedicated to prayer. Or maybe just because I thought the architecture was more impressive. Likely a combination of all of the above. It was pretty awesome.
Just walk 5-10 minutes inland and uphill from the Itsukushima and you run right into the Daisho-In. The grounds are dotted with small prayer statues (hundreds of them and they all appear to be different) and there are a number of prayer wheels on the grounds. Some are on the stairs and others along the paths. All of them are said to bring great fortune to those who touch them as they visit.
There is also an impressive collection of prayer offerings at the shrine. The island is, for some reason, known for its wooden rice spatulas, and that is one of the main souvenirs that is on sale in the markets on the island. It is also apparently one of the more common prayer offering vehicles at the Daisho-In shrine. There were hundreds of them with prayers offered up on them. Some of the prayers were less traditional than others.
The town itself is supposedly maintained in "classical Edo-era" style but I didn’t see much evidence of that as I visited. It mostly seemed like a series of shops all selling basically the same trinkets or food options. And there were a ton of people crowding the area and trying to avoid having their snacks stolen by the local deer which are known for such shenanigans.
But snack options were yummy, including grilled oysters, a variety of street meats (including seafood) and some sort of potato thing wrapped in bacon and then grilled. Mostly delicious, all cheap and worth a try to provide nourishment as you’re wandering around the island. Oh, if you do go for a snack on the street buy your beer from the vending machines scattered about; way cheaper.
My trip was limited in time due to a pressing need to get back to the ferry to get back to the train to get back to the bus to get to the airport so I could take my flight on the 787. I missed the ropeway and the hike to the top of the island, known for great views of the surrounding area. I also missed seeing the island without the throngs of tourists, most of whom leave as afternoon turns into evening. Still, it was an awesome follow-up to the gravity of visiting the Peace Park; the two really do go hand in hand. Plus I got to ride the local train and a ferry as part of the deal, both of which were fun.
Read more from this Trip Report under the Dream2011 tag here.
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