Get your fingers off that keyboard Internet Stranger! I see you getting ready to type me a nasty email saying that the real name of the island I am writing about today is not Miyajima, but Itsukushima. I know that! But no one is going to find this article if I entitle it A Perfect Travel Itinerary for Itsukushima because everyone calls Itsukushima “Miyajima”, which means Shrine Island. The shrine in question is Itsukushima Shrine–the world famous “floating” torii gate. How does it float, you ask? Is gelatin or David Copperfield involved somehow? Soon, you will know all.
Morning: Itsukushima Shrine
Miyajima is in Hiroshima Prefecture (kind of the Japanese equivalent of Hiroshima County), so it’s best visited as a day trip from Hiroshima. Just take the JR train from Hiroshima to Miyajimaguchi Station. At Miyajima Station, get off and follow the really clearly labeled signs and obvious throngs of tourists to the ferry to Miyajima–the Shrine Island.
Travelerette Tip: Don’t sit on the ferry if your legs are in working order. Get a spot with a great view, so you’ll be able to get oodles of snaps of the glorious sights of Miyajima that are about to befall your eyes. At first you will see nothing but water and a pretty island.
You get closer. You sense that something special is about to happen.
And then…rising out of the distance…
Some enchanted evening! You will see a torii! You will see a torii across a crowded ferry! Yes, the famous floating shrine of Miyajima floats not in outer space or jello, but in water. It looks like it’s rising straight out of the water. It’s even more impressive up close, so let’s go explore the island.
the approximately top five best things to do while exploring miyajima island
1) Say hello to the deer! You thought we were done with deer when we left Nara, but you were wrong. Dead wrong. They’re deer, they’re here, and they’re sacred. There aren’t nearly as many of them as there were in Nara, but they are still pretty friendly. Be warned not to try to eat a snack on the street because a deer will definitely try to jack you for it.
2) Eat a momiji manju. Momiji manju are the local snack in Miyajima. They are an adorable maple leaf shaped cake filled with sweet red bean paste. They are so popular on the island that you can while away a pleasant half hour just wandering from momiji store to momiji store watching them being made on these little conveyor belt machines.
I bought a momiji manju from one of the shops on the street lining the beach. It was covered with chocolate and very delicious, which it had better been because I had to fight off a very rude deer who tried to snack it from my hands in order to keep it.
3) Visit the floating shrine on 1-1 Miyajima-chō. This shrine is the whole reason you came to Miyajima in the first place. But what is funny is that the only reason the shrine exists is because of commoners like you. The island has been considered sacred for a long time, so if commoners wanted to visit, their boats needed to pass through this gate first. Now it costs you only 300 Yen (about 3 dollars) to enter the shrine’s presence. Once you are there, wait until the tide is low.
Then walk as close to it as your shoes will allow.
Travelerette Tip: Wear waterproof shoes.
There’s not a lot to do at the shrine but take as many photos as possible. If you are a solo traveler, people will probably ask you if you want your picture taken. I always say no because I assume those people want to steal my camera.
4) During cherry blossom season, see the cherry blossoms. I mean, this is pretty obvious advice anywhere in Japan, but there are some nice cherry blossoms in Miyajima, and they pair well with the old-fashioned looking houses. Plus the deer like them too.
5) Go shopping. Japan is the greatest country for souvenir shopping because each prefecture has its own special goods and symbols. Get something with deer, the floating torii, and/or maple leaves on it, and you’ll think of Miyajima every time you look at it.
I bought this makeup bag that has all three things on it! Oh the cleverness of me!
Address: 539 Miyajimacho
Miyajima may be famous for floating torii, deer, and maple leaves, but we must not forget the most delicious thing it is famous for: oysters. In fact, oysters are a major delicacy all over the Hiroshima region. As you can see, Hiroshima oysters are HUGE and gorgeous, but what you cannot taste in this photo is that they are also perfect to eat. They taste exactly like that “I kissed a fish and I liked it” sensation that every oyster lover looks for.
Kakiya is the perfect place to go for an oyster set-lunch. Your waiter will probably pull out his cell phone while you are ordering and you show the “secret menu”. The “secret” is that for 21 dollars, you can get oysters five ways: barbecued (pictured above), fried, in miso soup, oiled, and cooked in rice. I really think the waiter should know better than to keep secret pictures on his cell phone because those are so easily hacked. But I ordered the secret menu anyway because the only thing better than four kinds of oysters is five kinds of oysters.
All of the oysters were succulent, but the small black oiled oyster, which is the house specialty, was my favorite. It was so rich and dense that it tasted just like an oyster who had died and gone to heaven. I found it interesting though that all of the oysters were cooked. When I eat oysters here in the US, they are almost always raw and on the half shell.
Early Afternoon: Daisho in Temple
Address: 210 Miyajima-chō
I had never heard of Daisho Temple before I came to Miyajima. I just kind of stumbled upon it when I was wandering around, and I fell in love. It is a Shingon Buddhist temple, which is also known as esoteric Buddhism, and I’m afraid I don’t know very much about Shingon Buddhism in general. But what I do know about this temple in particular is that it is full of statues wearing clothes.
These stone statues are all statues of Jizo, who is a Bodhissatva who protects travelers and children. People make offerings to him by dressing him up in different outfits. Maybe Jizo is really modest, or maybe he’s just one of those people who gets cold super easily? Don’t feel bad about that, Jizo! Cold hands, warm heart!
I appreciate that people want to respect Jizo by giving him these beautiful hats, but I kind of feel like the red and the white makes this look like an incomplete Where’s Waldo? drawing.
Travelerette Tip: If you see a room in the temple and it’s not obviously blocked off, don’t hesitate to go inside and explore! You might find the room with 1000 images of Fudo, the Immovable King. These images were placed here by worshipers when the current head priest took office. I feel like if they wanted to make these really immovable, they should have tried making them bigger.
Or you might find the famous Henjokutsu Cave, which is a popular pilgrimage spot. If there’s one thing that makes me feel like a traveler and not a tourist, it’s finding an empty cave.
Travelerette Treasure: My favorite thing to do at this temple was look for the many adorable offerings of toys that people had left for Jizo. It makes sense that people would give him things meant for young ones, as Jizo is supposed to be a protector of children. The Minion was by far the most popular toy offering.
But my favorite was this Winnie the Pooh dressed in a Santa costume. Good to know that old Pooh Bear is still valued enough to be used as a sacrifice to Jizo! A classic is always a classic.
Late Afternoon: Mt. Misen
Address: It’s a mountain. Do you think it has an address like 1 Mt. Misen Lane? Look up! You can’t miss it.
Some days I have a careful travel itinerary planned down to the last second. And some days I get to about 3 o’clock in the afternoon and say to myself, “Ho, hum. I think I’ll climb a mountain today.” Today was one of the latter days.
There is a path from Daisho Temple that leads directly to the top of Mount Misen, the sacred mountain on Itsukushima Island. I imagine being a sacred mountain on top of a sacred island must make all the other mountains lime-green Jello with envy. Even though I was wearing sandals and a dress, and I hadn’t planned to go climbing at all, as soon as I saw the signs for Mt. Misen, I knew I had to scale the 90 minute walk to the top.
Travelerette Tip: If you want to hike Mt. Misen, buy some water or green tea from one of the many vending machines on Miyajima before starting your climb. You will thank me later, trust me. There’s plenty of benches and places to rest if, like me, you are not used to hiking on a regular basis.
Fun Fact: Apparenly Mt. Misen is home to the poisonous viper known as the Mamushi. These signs warning of an Incredibly Deadly Viper are all over Mt. Misen and they are hilarious. Do people need to be warned to not go near strange snakes and to not poke at them with sticks? The first time I saw these signs I felt frightened, but there were plenty of other hikers going up and down the mountain and none of them seemed to have mamushi-phobia, so I gather that the vipers aren’t really a problem for hikers.
Travelerette Treasure: Obviously the greatest thing about Mt. Misen is the sense of accomplishment you feel when you see that glorious view from the top! There is an actual observatory room but it was closed by the time I got there, so I just had to make do with the view from these rocks.
As I poked my head up over the top of the rocks upon arriving at the summit, I heard the sound of Japanese flute, or shakuhachi, music. I was delighted to see a young man wearing a light kimono trying his hand at traditional music. I thought he was a professional at first, but it soon became obvious that he had just come to the top of the mountain to practice and…make the mountain more atmosphere for tourists, I guess. Thanks kid! Listen to that shakuhachi music while looking at my photos of the mountain and you can perhaps replicate the effect in the privacy of your own home!
I recommend stopping at one of the stands that sells steamed buns and getting one filled with anago eel, a local specialty. Anago is saltwater eel, and it has a lovely sweet mildness that makes it perfect for putting inside a bun. I really felt that the anago understood me better than the freshwater eels I eat at home do.
For dessert, what else can it be but soft-serve ice cream! There are so many different flavors in Japan that I recommend trying as many different ones as you can. This light blue beauty is Ramune-flavored, so it has the lemony, fizzy taste of the popular Japanese carbonated soda. It even has little fizzy candies in it, so it almost feels like the ice cream is carbonated. Just keep it away from the deer!
At this point, Miyajima Island kind of shuts down for the evening around 6 PM, so it will be time to get on the ferry, then the train, and head back to Hiroshima. If you come back, be sure to bring a Minion for Jizo!
And That’s How to Have a Perfect Day on Miyajima
What would you want to do in one day in Miyajima? Have you ever spontaneously decided to hike a mountain? Would you rather bring Jizo a Minion, Winnie the Pooh in a Santa costume, or something else? Please leave your thoughts below!
I am here to provide perfect travel itineraries with 24 hours, 3 fun facts, and 1,000,000 laughs! I hope that I can motivate you to get out there, see the world, learn something, and have a sense of humor about it all.