NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
It’s been a long time since I last did a Japan travel post, so I thought I’d tell you about the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited in Japan (so far): Miyajima Island.
All photos were taken by yours truly, which is pretty rare for this blog!
Miyajima Island is considered to be one of the most spiritual places in Japan. It is home to the giant ‘floating’ torii gate, so-called because it appears to be floating when the tide is in. When the tide is out, you can walk right under it! Beyond the torii gate is Itsukushima Shrine, which is also built over the water. Torii gates mark the entrance of Shinto shrines, and people come to pay their respects to the resident kami gods and pray for good luck. To reach Miyajima Island, you must take a short boat ride from Hiroshima. It’s a site to behold when the floating torii gate comes into view for the first time.
Shortly after stepping off the boat, you’ll meet the friendly four-legged locals. The wild deer on the island have become accustomed to humans over the years, to the point that they will jump up at you and go rummaging around bags hanging over push chairs.
Beyond Itsukushima Shrine is Mount Misen, the place where Buddhism was first believed to be practiced. Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon sect and one of Japan’s holiest religious people, meditated at the summit and lit a flame at the Reikado (Hall of Spiritual Flame) which still burns today. A short distance from the summit is Misen Hondo, one of three places where Tantric Shingon Buddhism is taught, as well as a few other shrines and temples where you can pay respects to the kami and purchase an omamori charm for good luck.
There are two ways to reach the summit; either follow in the footsteps of Kodo Daishi and hike 529.8m above sea level, or cheat and take the ropeway and take a still rather hilly but much shorter fifteen minute walk to the summit. When I went with my mum in September, we decided to carry on beyond the summit and ‘explore’ the steep pathways but the heat and terrain soon beat us. At one point it looked like we were lost but we found our way back to the ropeway station, enjoyed the world’s most rewarding icecream and took the easy way back down to the town. If you’re a hardcore hiker, however, there are the Seven Wonders of Mount Misen to look out for:
- Kiezu-no-hi: The sacred fire at the Reikado that has burned for over 1,170 years.
- Shakujo-no-ume: Kobo Daishi’s plum staff where he left it and sprouted roots and leaves. If the staff-turned-tree doesn’t bloom its double blossoms in the spring it is considered a bad omen.
- Mandala Rock: A large rock into which Kobo Daishi carved Buddhist sutras in Sanskrit and Chinese.
- Kanman-iwa: A rock with a hole which is said to be filled with salt water during high tide and drain out during low tide.
- Shigure-zakura: It is always damp under this cherry tree, so a perfect resting spot for hikers.
- Ryuto-no-sugi: Ryuto is a phenomenon where lights appear on the sea, and it is best viewed from this cedar tree.
- Clapping wood sound: At night, you can hear the sound of wood clapping on the mountain. It is said to be the work of a Japanese Tengu goblin clapping wooden clappers.
After all that walking, you’ll want to explore the rest of the island. One of the most beautiful structures in the town is the five-storied Tahota Pagoda, which sits on a hill rising behind Itsukushima Shrine. Nearby is Senjokaku, the pavilion of 1000 mats, so-called because it is the size of approximately 1000 tatami mats. Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the three great unifiers of Japan, commissioned the hall for the purpose of chanting Buddhist sutras in 1587. However, he died before it was completed and was succeeded by Tokugawa Ieyasu rather than his heirs, so it was never finished. Although it has neither ceiling nor a front entrance, it is still impressive to see.
The Daisho-in is also an essential viewing place. This temple is located at the bottom of Mount Misen and features various buildings, statues and religious objects. The most impressive place is a cave filled with 88 buddhas representing the temples of the famous Shikoku Pilgrimage. I recommend visiting Daisho-in at night when the staircase is lit by candlelight. You’ll need to stay in a traditional ryokan inn for at least one night in order to see the island in all its glory in both the light and dark.
There are so many breath-taking views and secrets hidden down the alleyways of the town. In many ways, it feels other-worldly. The best way to experience Miyajima is to see it so, for now, I will leave you with some more holiday photos and urge you to spend some time on this beautiful island.