MIYAJIMA, Japan — In many ways, the tranquil 15-minute ferry ride is indicative of what lies ahead. The island of Itsukushima, popularly known as Miyajima, is like a step back in time with its dirt roads and wildlife roaming through the city’s streets.
This small hamlet located just off the coast of Hiroshima might not top most guidebooks’ lists of places to see in Japan. But given its close proximity to Hiroshima, a city many travelers are likely to visit, Miyajima is one destination worth exploring and an easy day trip.
Located on the island of Itsukushima, Miyajima isn’t even the city’s name; it’s a popular name for the island and means “shrine place.” Not surprising, Miyajima is considered a holy place, and for years, dying was not allowed on the island. To this day, there are no cemeteries or hospitals there.
A few of the island’s must-see sights include:
– Itsukushima Shrine: The island’s main attraction, this shrine is constructed over the water, designed so that visitors could visit the shrine without leaving their footprints on the island. The first shrine was built on the island in 593. The current shrine dates to the 12th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
– The floating torri: This torri, which means gate in Japanese, is one of the country’s most picturesque landmarks. In high tide, it looks as though the gate is floating on the water, hence its name. In low tide, it is easily accessible via foot, making it a popular picture spot for tourists.
– Senjokaku: Dating to 1587, this “1,000-mat pavilion” isn’t necessarily the tourist attraction. It’s the five-story pagoda located next to the pavilion. Combining Chinese and Japanese styles of architecture, many believe the pagoda was originally built in 1407.
– The world’s largest spatula: Well-known for its spatulas, Miyajima is also home to the world’s largest spatula, which is on display along one of the city’s main shopping streets.
Other attractions on the island include Daisho-in, a Buddist temple in the island’s hills that is often overlooked by travelers. Miyajima is also home to an aquarium, and the outdoorsy-type travelers might want to hike to the top of Mt. Misen.
The island offers extensive shopping options and even a couple of hotels for those looking to enjoy the island’s vistas at nice. Perhaps, most interesting, tame deer wander the city’s streets looking for food handouts from tourists. Until 2007, visitors to the island could buy food to feed the deer, but the city has since introduced a feeding ban.
Miyajima is technically not its own city; in 2005, Miyajima merged with Hatsukaichi. Both Hatsukaichi and Hiroshima were interested in annexing Miyajima, but the city’s residents voted to become part of Hatsukaichi.
Given that Miyajima is on an island, the only way to access it is via ferry. The good news is that Japan Railways operates one of the two ferries between the mainland and Itsukushima, meaning travelers with a Japan Railways Rail Pass can board the ferry without paying.
To access the ferry, take Japan Railways’s Sanyo Line from the JR Hiroshima Station to Miyajima-guchi, a roughly 20-minute train ride. It’s also possible to take a streetcar from JR Hiroshima Station to the ferry port, though that is a much longer trip.