Thursday, December 26, 2013

Miyajima Island

On our second day in Hiroshima, we traveled to Miyajima Island, home of Itsukushima shrine, Mount Misen, Momijidani Park, and numerous shrines and temples. This island is supposedly the home of one of the three best views in all of Japan. To get there, we had to take a 30-40 minute ride on the streetcars, and then a 5-10 minute ferry ride out to the island. 

The island of Miyajima has been considered a holy place for most of Japanese history. Mount Misen was established as a holy Buddhist site in 806 - yes, YEAR EIGHT-HUNDRED AND SIX - and it has long been preserved as a special part Japanese history and nature. 

We bumped into some Samurai on the way.

The first thing we did when we set foot upon the island was to head over to Itsukushima shrine, another UNESCO World Heritage site. "The shrine has been destroyed many times, but the first shrine buildings were probably erected in the 6th century. The present shrine dates from the mid-16th century, and is believed to follow an earlier design from the 12th century. That design was established in 1168, when funds were provided by the warlord Taira no Kiyomori" (Wikipedia). The shrine was built on stilts above the water so that ordinary people could visit the island without "defiling" the island with their footprints upon its land.

One of the defining images of Miyajima island is the torii gate out in the water, separating the ordinary world from the sacred space of Istukushima shrine. Oh, and you'll also find deer wandering the island of Miyajima. They are used to people... a little too used to people... so you need to be careful if you're walking around with any food in your hands, pockets, or bags.

The famous torii in the water.

The purifying fountain at the entrance to Itsukushima. My girls know just what to do.

Walking into the shrine.

Some sort of blessing ceremony going on inside.

After leaving the shrine, we headed up to Miyajima's Five-Story Pagoda. It was built in 1407 with Chinese techniques brought over with Zen Buddhism. It is a bright orange color and impossible to miss.

For lunch, we stopped at a stand for yakitori (chicken on a stick), as well as beef, pork, corn, and french fries. It was DELICIOUS. After eating (and protecting our food from the deer), we followed signs for Mt. Misen and the ropeway. Now, you could walk the whole way up to the top of Mt. Misen if you wanted to... but if you bought a 1- or 2-day pass, the ropeway is included and is definitely the way to go.

Love the "if you run a little" part. 

Pops said the only way we got him to ride on this thing was because the grandkids wanted him to.

Great views of the primeval forest.

There are two parts to the ropeway, and once you get to the end of of it, there's about 30 more minutes of hiking to the observation tower at the highest point on the island. It was a lot higher than I thought it was. We did not go up to the observation tower because it was pretty cold, and our kids were getting tired of walking. However, we still had some fantastic views from the spots we made it to.

After coming back down the ropeway, we started making our way back to the ferries. On the way back, we walked through Omotesando - the popular shopping street in Miyajima. One of the first shops we stopped in was making Miyajima's famous Momiji Manju, a maple leaf-shaped waffle with various fillings. Not a personal favorite of my own, but my kids liked them.

Miyajima was beautiful, and it was a great day trip during our stay in Hiroshima. I can only imagine what the forest would look like in spring or fall. And after all that hiking and walking on the island, I think we had some of the best sleep we'd had in weeks.

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