This post was last updated on June 10th, 2020 at 08:53 am
Miyajima is an island near Hiroshima and is best known for the iconic torii gate that can be found there. At high tide, it even seems as if this torii floats on the water, which makes for a surreal look. If you read about Miyajima, you would think that viewing this torii is the only reason to visit this island. However, there is much more to experience.
In the wooded hills you can, for example, take beautiful walks. And deer run all over Miyajima, or they take a nap in the grass. There are also several impressive temples and you can enjoy a beautiful view from a height of 535 meters.
In addition, it is extra beautiful in the fall or during the cherry blossom period. And we were lucky because bright red and yellow colors were everywhere.
Curious? We spent a day at Miyajima and share our six best tips with you.
1. Start in the Cozy Omotesando Arcade
Upon arrival at Miyajima, you will immediately notice that it is very touristy. It is one of the most popular attractions in Japan for day-trippers. However, we did not experience the crowds as disturbing, because there are enough places where you will hardly encounter a person. Moreover, the tourists make the center cozy, because there is so much life all around you.
When you walk there from the harbor, you’ll immediately notice the stray deer. Earlier we saw them in Nara, only they are less nosy on Miyajima. They seem a lot more relaxed, especially in the quieter areas outside the center. At least that’s how we experienced it. Unlike Nara, deer cookies are not sold here, which could be a reason for this behavioral difference.
The shopping street – or tourist street – of the island is Omotesando Arcade, a bustling place full of fun. Only the Starbucks on Miyajima felt out of place. On the other hand, this business is the ultimate opportunity to make money here, that’s the way it is. Speaking of coffee, do you fancy espresso or a latte? Then be sure to drop in at Miyajima Coffee.
What you’ll also see a lot are shops that offer freshly grilled oysters. In front of the shop is a baking tray on which a cook prepares them for you in style. This snack is the island’s specialty and highly recommended to try.
2. View the Magical Torii Gate at Itsukushima Shrine
We already mentioned it in the intro: the torii gate that characterizes Miyajima. To be precise we’re talking about the red torii giving access to Itsukushima Shrine. This is pretty much the most famous torii in all of Japan, and its unique location is one of the reasons. At high tide, the structure is partly in the sea, which, combined with the sunset, creates beautiful pictures. When it is low tide, you can walk there over the sand. The gate suddenly turns into the busiest place on the island.
Please note, this gate is currently under renovation. The construction is fully underway and work is expected to be completed in August 2020.
3. View the Five-Story Gojunoto Pagoda
Near the Itsukushima Shrine is Gojunoto, an eye-catching red-orange pagoda that consists of no less than five floors and is almost 28 meters high. This architectural wonder was built in 1407 and is dedicated to the Buddhist God of Medicine. And because of its location on a hill, you can see it from almost everywhere.
If you stand in front and view the pagoda from below, you will be amazed by the many details and the impressive design. Walk further to Machiya Street, from this picturesque street with cafes and galleries you have a nice view of Gojunoto.
Also close by is the Tahoto Pagoda, which is particularly impressive during the Sakura (cherry blossom) season. The pagoda is then surrounded by trees that turn completely white/pink.
4. Wander Through the Magical Daisho-in Temple Complex
At the foot of Mount Misen is the Daisho-in Temple, a beautiful complex surrounded by greenery and a place with countless statues. You start at Niomon Gate, where a steep staircase takes you past metal wheels. Buddhist texts can be read on those wheels. The story goes that when you turn such a wheel, you are then blessed. Eventually, via the long staircase, you reach the main building; the Maniden Hall.
It is also great to take a look at the Henjokutsu Cave, a pilgrim cave that is attractively illuminated with lanterns. Inside you will find 88 icons from Buddhism, which refer to the 88 temples you will encounter on the 1,400 kilometers long Shikoku pilgrimage.
The most beautiful piece of Daisho-in, however, can be found elsewhere. Downstairs, right next to the stairs, you will find a spiritual garden with hundreds of statues of certain people, all of whom have a brightly colored cap. They are Rakan figurines that refer to Shaka, the founder of Buddhism. Every face is different and has its own expressions. Very special to witness.
Before entering the temple, you come to a bridge where, in our case, a few deer were licking each other clean. Then they stared around dazed. A funny and cute face.
5. Hike to the Top of Mount Misen
Another highlight of Miyajima is the hike to the 535-meter summit of Mount Misen. There are three different trails to get there, of which the Daisho-in Route is known as the most beautiful. This 1.5 to 2-hour trip starts right next to the Daisho-in Temple, and usually consists of steep stone steps and winding paths through the forest.
During the walk, you will occasionally see temples and shrines, and you may even see monkeys or deer. Upstairs, at the Mount Misen Observatory, you have a panoramic view of the Setouchi Archipelago and Hiroshima. Despite the crowds, you can relax here together with other sweaty people.
Frankly, we thought it was quite a heavy hike, especially quite steep. Even though we did do some light running on part of the route. We were just looking forward to a workout because it hadn’t happened that often during our Japan trip. Completely drenched in sweat, other climbers often looked at me with amazement and wonder. Although some people might have looked at us like we’re crazy. 😉
You can also take the cable car up, but you still have to walk 30 minutes to get to the viewpoint.
6. Hike One of the Other Trails
After we got back down, we walked towards Momijidani Park, a spot with beautiful autumn colors, a picturesque red bridge, and from which you can go in all directions. Moreover, this is the place where you will find the cable car that goes to Mount Misen.
In addition to the trip to Moijidani, there are plenty of hikes to do. Think of the Tsutsumigaura Nature Walk that leads you through the woods, the Asebi Walk that runs from Omoto Park to Daisho-in and the Uguisu Walk. The latter is actually mainly a motorway, nevertheless, it is still pretty quiet. We happened to end up there on our way back to the harbor and saw relaxing deer and streets full of colored autumn leaves. The deer looked at us with a dreamy look and seemed to enjoy the moment.
Is it Worth Staying in Miyajima?
If you have the time and want to experience Miyajima without hordes of tourists, then it is certainly nice to stay here for one or a few nights. And this doesn’t have to be expensive at all. For example, you can go to the Backpackers Miyajima. Another must is Miyajima Guest House Mikuniya. They have nice private rooms at reasonable prices at Kikunoya.
How to Get to Miyajima
Miyajima is easily accessible from Hiroshima. Take the train to Miyajimaguchi Station (30 minutes from Hiroshima Station), there you will then find a port where you take the JR Miyajima Ferry to Miyajima. The crossing takes about 10 minutes and costs 360 yen (~ US$3.35) for a return ticket. Ferries run all day long, here you will find the exact schedule. By the way, if you have a JR Pass, this boat trip is free.
Another much more expensive option is the speedboat that departs from the Hiroshima Port Ujina Passenger Terminal, located about 5 kilometers from the Peace Memorial Park. A single ticket costs 1,900 yen (~ US$17.60), a return ticket 3,400 yen (~ US$31.50), and you are on the road for 25 minutes.