Day 6: December 1
First day of 7-day JR pass
Miyajima is one of my favourite places in Japan. Although it would be great to stay a night, I have only visited twice as a day trip from Kyoto, with a few hours visiting Hiroshima included too. It makes for a long day, but if you were to visit as a day trip from any of the major cities further south-west than Kyoto, it would really help. As I mentioned in my introduction post, Miyajima is one of the nihon sankei, three most scenic views of Japan! Miyajima is an island off Hiroshima, and is actually officially named Itsukushima, but more commonly referred to as Miyajima (shrine island). It is famous for its huge torii built over the water, which looks like it is floating on the water during high tide, and is approachable during low tide. To really enjoy the beauty of Miyajima and the torii, I would recommend being there during high tide and low tide. These times vary every day, so check online for daily tide information. The hours between high/low tide may typically require you to stay for several hours on the island, but Miyajima is a lovely island to explore. From experience, the tide times served as a guideline only. For example a low tide at 6:00 means that around 5:00 and thereafter, the water has more or less receded enough for people to be able to walk right up to the torii.
Anyway we started our day as usual in our Kyoto hotel and left very early, catching the subway to Kyoto station and then the shinkansen to Hiroshima station. All our JR transport would be “free” as we would be using our JR pass for the next seven days. The ride to Hiroshima station was three hours and we arrived at 11:20am. I had a tablet with me that I used to pass the time on the shinkansen but didn’t want to carry it around so I left it in a coin locker. We took a tram to the Peace Memorial Park, where the A-Bomb Dome is located. It actually rained lightly when we arrived, so we purchased one of those transparent umbrellas from the conbini, and of course the rain then promptly stopped and it remained rain-free for the rest of the day.
Miyajima-guchi station, where the ferry to Miyajima is located, is accessible by JR train, which would have been free for us. But from the Peace Memorial Park, which is located quite centrally in Hiroshima, the train line was too far, so the easiest route was to take the tram. Otherwise it is definitely more efficient to travel by train between Miyajima-guchi station and Hiroshima station. Alternatively there is a direct boat from Peace Memorial Park to Miyajima, but it works out to be far pricier so I’ve yet to take that mode of transportation. From Miyajima-guchi station, we took the ferry (very short walk from the station) to Miyajima. There are two ferry companies, and frequent ferries (about every 15 minutes during the day) that make the 10-minute trip. We took the JR ferry, since it is covered in the JR pass.
Honestly, I couldn’t be annoyed by the light rain earlier, because we had such amazing weather the rest of the day. We arrived shortly after the high tide, so the tide would be gradually receding for the rest of our time there until low tide in the evening.
If you’ve ever heard of “deer island” in Japan, it is actually Miyajima! There are heaps of wild deer in Miyajima. Like the deer in Nara park, they are tame and quite used to people. They walk around with people, sometimes trying to sneak into stores or getting interesting in people who appear to have food.
We walked to Itsukushima shrine (approximately 10 minutes from the ferry terminal), which the iconic torii belongs to. It, like the torii, is also built over water. As it is much closer to the land though, the receding tide is a lot more obvious. When we were there the area beneath the shrine was already becoming dry.
From the shrine, we wandered around a bit, eating some street food and even watched a monkey perform with his busking owner. The route between the ferry pier and the shrine, there are many small streets with souvenir and food shops, including a lot of shops selling famous local souvenir snacks to eat while walking – like momiji Japanese maple leaf shaped and decorated buns. We also had things like fried prawn cakes and dango. The small streets are really fun to wander through. We didn’t have lunch (again!!!) and relied on those snacks.
We walked up to the ropeway for Mt Misen (there is also a shuttle bus since the walk is not long, the wait for the bus wasn’t worth it) and there was less than an hour before the ropeway would close! The ropeway is actually quite a long ride. I think it took about 20 minutes and even a transfer. From the ropeway terminal there is another steep hike to the summit at 535m! Unfortunately because it was nearly closing time, there was a huge line for taking the ropeway back down the mountain. My mum decided to stand in line for us while I raced up to the summit. It was really beautiful, and I felt guilty that she couldn’t also see it. The visibility was great and you could see much of the Seto Inland Sea. In the future, I’d like to take one of the three hiking paths up (and down) Mt Misen.
When we reached the bottom and walked back towards the sea, it was getting dark quickly but the tide was now low enough to walk to the torii. Up close, you can really appreciate how big the gate is. You can also see the fruits of visitors’ efforts at trying to place coins on and in the cracks of the torii (for good luck). Another popular attraction is Itsukushima shrine and the torii illumination at night, but unfortunately I haven’t been able to stay that long because I’ve only visited as day trips from Kyoto and the journey back is long.
By the time we left to take the ferry back to the main island, it was very dark. In winter it is also very cold from the strong sea winds. From Miyajima-guchi station, we took the JR train back to Hiroshima station and fetched the tablet from the coin locker. We still had plenty of time, so we had some udon in one of those tiny standing restaurants in the station. Our shinkansen back to Kyoto station took just under three hours.
The next day we would be saying goodbye to our Kyoto base for the first time and heading to Hakone (moving hotels much more frequently thereafter). I had to ring the hotel in Hakone to confirm how to get there, and they were very kind (it was my first time using a phone in Japan and it took a few tries to figure out the domestic area codes etc).