Miyajima Island and the Great Floating Torii

It was no rest for the wicked as, after a busy day in Hiroshima yesterday, this morning mum, dad and I caught a ferry from nearby Miyajimaguchi port to visit Miyajima Island.

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I’d been looking forward to this trip for quite some time – if you haven’t before heard of Miyajima Island just wait until you see some of the photos in this blog and you’ll see why I was so keen to visit!

An island in the Seto Inland Sea, Miyajima is one of Japan’s ‘most scenic spots’ and is itself a Unesco World Heritage Site. There are many sites of historical interest and breath-taking beauty including the ‘Virgin Forest’ of Mount Misen, numerous shrines, temples and historic monuments, and the world’s largest shakushi rice scoop.

Miyajima’s most famous feature though are the great, vermillion red, floating Torii (shrine gates) of Istukushima Jinga Shrine. It’s not hard to see why this is consistently ranked one of the three ‘best views’ in Japan and why I was so keen to visit!

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Itsukushima Jinga itself was rather interesting too. The present shrine dates from 1168 when it was rebuilt at the request of the lord of the Heike clan, Taira no Kiyomon. The reason that the shrine buildings stand on water reflects Miyajima Island’s long history as a place of spiritual sanctity and holiness. ‘Common’ folk were not permitted to set foot on the island but were instead expected to approach by boat, entering via the great torii. The west and east corridors of Itsukushima Jinga were designated National Treasures in 1947 and 1952 respectively, and also within the shrine complex is a floating Nōh stage, built by a local lord in 1680 for the performance of traditional Nōh theatre. However, the shrine buildings were not exactly floating at the time of our visit as we had arrived at low tide!

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We were fortunate to witness a wedding whilst we were at Itsukushima Jinga – fascinating and a real privilege to observe.

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On leaving Itsukushima Jinga we took a short wander along to Daisho-in, admiring some of the island’s beautiful scenery, including a five-storied and three-storied pagoda, several pretty little bridges and a good scattering of cherry blossom.

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Then it was up the steep steps to Daisho-in, part way up Mount Misen. Daisho-in is the main temple of the Shingon Buddhist school of Omuro and is a quirky little temple with all manner of interesting things scattered around the complex, including a peculiar array of Buddhist imagery, hundreds of colour coordinated, bobble hat-clad Buddhist statues and an illuminated cave containing statues from each of the 88 Shikoku pilgrimage temples.

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Wandering back down to the harbour we enjoyed seeing some of Miyajima’s other features including:-

Momiji-dani-Koen, full of pretty pink sakura.

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I loved this sign, informing visitors of the length of time it would take to walk to the ropeway.

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The five-storied, vermillion-lacquered pagoda of Toyokuni Shrine, built in 1407 in the Zen Buddhist style.

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Omotesando shopping street and, what I’m sure you will all be very excited to see, the world’s largest shakushi (rice scoop).

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We grabbed a spot of lunch at a port-side Okonomiyaki restaurant. Okonomiyaki is often called Japanese pizza but in reality it is a batter and cabbage pancake cooked on a ‘teppan’ (iron hotplate). The dish is commonly associated with Osaka but there are many regional variations: the Kansai/Osaka type is as above but with any of a wide range of vegetables, meat and fish added to the batter, while the Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki sandwiches noodles between two layers of pancake’. Mum tried the Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki, whilst dad and I opted for the Yaki-soba (griddled noodles and cabbage without the pancake).

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Finally it was time to catch a ferry boat back to Miyajimaguchi and make the long journey back to Kobe.

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