A fantastic view of Miyajima's World Heritage site, Itsukushima Shrine
Over in Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture, is an island that has been worshiped by people since ancient times.
That island is Miyajima.
This island is home to Itsukushima Shrine, which has been registered as a World Cultural Heritage site thanks to its beautiful architectural landscape,
including the way it appears to float on the sea.
Changing with the ebb and flow of the tide, the scenery of Itsukushima Shrine is admired by people from around the world.
In 2019, the number of visitors heading to the island exceeded 465 million people, making it a popular destination among tourists from both within and outside Japan.
Let's take a look at Miyajima’s Itsukushima Shrine, a place full of ancient history and beautiful scenery.
Are Miyajima and Itsukushima different islands?
The character ‘島’ (read ‘shima’ or ‘jima’) that appears in both Miyajima (宮島) and Itsukushima (厳島) means ‘island’ in Japanese.
Although these names might appear to be referencing separate islands, both names are actually referring to the same place.
While the Japan's Geographical Survey Institute lists "Itsukushima" as the address, the Ministry of the Environment and others choose to use "Miyajima."
Basically, the name used for the island differs depending on the authority.
So, why are there two names?
The island is home to the Shinto shrine, Itsukushima Shrine, and it is said that during the Edo period, this island came to be known as Miyajima instead.
This name gradually became more common, and still continues to be used today, especially when referring to the entire island.
You can reach the island on the JR West Miyajima Ferry which departs from Miyajimaguchi, Hatsukaichi.
It's about 3km from Miyajimaguchi to Miyajima, and the ride takes about 10 minutes.
A one-way ticket costs 180 yen for adults, and 90 yen for children.
I like traveling by boat, and although the time spent aboard the ship was short, my heart started beating faster with excitement as we approached the island.
Miyajima is small, with a circumference of about 30km and a population of about 1,800.
Rich in nature, it has long been the subject of nature worship and is a place that seems to draw people in.
The ferry arrives at Miyajima Pier, and when you get off, you will see two stone pagodas standing before you with charming scenery all around.
If you're lucky, a deer might come to welcome you!
Because the island is surrounded by the calm Seto Inland Sea, the whole area has a calming atmosphere.
The beautiful sights offered by Itsukushima Shrine are known as one of the Three Views of Japan, along with Matsushima in Miyagi and Amanohashidate in Kyoto.
These places are cherished by the Japanese people.
It takes about 10 minutes on foot from the pier to Itsukushima Shrine.
Let’s visit one of the three most scenic spots in Japan.
What is Itsukushima Shrine?
The three female deities of Ichikishimahime-no- mikoto, Tagorihime-no-mikoto and Tagitsuhime-no-mikoto are enshrined here.
Even today, they are still widely worshiped in regards to maritime safety, art and fortune.
With its Shinto pavilions built out in the sea, this shrine has an unusual structure, and the current form we see today was created in 1168.
Taira no Kiyomori, who worshipped at the shrine, built the pavilions on stilts using the "shinden-zukuri" style.
This architectural style was often used during the Heian Period (794–1185) for aristocratic mansions.
Such an unusual structure creates a fascinating landscape, and the scenery changes depending on the ebb and flow of the tide.
Within the shrine grounds, several important buildings including the worship hall, main hall, and a Noh theater stage are connected from east to west through a corridor.
There are 6 national treasures and 11 important cultural properties within the grounds, making this is a place where you can really feel Japan's rich history while strolling around.
A walk around Itsukushima Shrine
If you want to take a walk around the grounds, use the entrance on the east side.
As you walk along the east corridor, you'll soon see a shrine on your left.
This is the Marodo Shrine, a secondary shrine for worshipping five male guest deities.
Pay a visit here first.
Then, continue down the east corridor and head towards the main shrine.
Although you can't enter the main shrine itself, you can pay homage to the three female deities from the worship hall.
After you've seen the "taka-butai" (high stage) and "hira-butai" (open stage) of the Noh theater, pay a visit to the Daikoku Shrine and Tenjin Shrine.
The general route then follows the west corridor through to the west exit.
You can feel the solemn atmosphere and a sense of purity, especially when visiting the main shrine.
While here, there are two highlights that you should definitely try to see.
Highlight 1: Walking through a national treasure
The winding east and west corridors stretch for 275m, and are one of the key characteristics of Itsukushima Shrine.
There is a slight gap between the floorboards to allow for the water to escape during high tide (so it's best not to wear high heel shoes!)
Walking along these corridors, you can feel the history and will no doubt be impressed by the impressive wisdom of the past.
From these corridors, it's worth looking out for the large torii gate floating on the sea and the flat, open-air stage.
This is one sight that is truly unique to Itsukushima Shrine.
There is also a spot where you can take pictures of the corridor and the torii gate together.
Sights that make you want to stop and look just keep on coming as you walk around.
Highlight 2: Itsukushima Shrine's Otorii
The most classic view of Itsukushima Shrine is the large torii gate that floats on the sea, known as an "Otorii" (literally "great torii").
Standing 16.6m tall, even from a distance this bright vermilion torii gate has a strong presence.
You can also walk near it at low tide, and it's even more spectacular when viewed from up close—I took so many photos!
Many people enjoy taking pictures near the torii gate, and the peaceful atmosphere is soothing.
But why is there a torii gate in the sea?
It's believed that because the entire island of Miyajima is worshiped as a "kami", a type of Shinto deity,it was built at sea so as not to damage the land.
Here you can get a sense of Japan's religious outlook, worshiping various items as deities.
The three fantastic landscapes of Miyajima
After visiting Itsukushima Shrine, go and explore the rest of the island.
After all, if you're visiting Miyajima, the you’ll definitely want to see the rest of what it has to offer! Here are three of the best spots.
① Views from the Shishiiwa Observatory
One sight you should definitely see when you come to Miyajima is the view from the Shishiiwa Observatory.
From there, you can see the calm waters and islands of the Seto Inland Sea.
It's especially beautiful when the sun's rays are reflected and shine on the sea, and I found myself just staring out at the scenery.
You can access the observatory by ropeway, or by walking along the hiking trail.
If you want to take the ropeway, go to Momijidani Station.
It's about a 26-minute walk from Miyajima Pier, and a 16-minute walk from Itsukushima Shrine.
It takes about 15 minutes to get from Momijidani Station to Shishiiwa Station, and the observatory is right next to Shishiiwa Station.
Opening hours: 09:00–16:00
Round trip fare: Adults 1,840 yen
Children 920 yen
On the other hand, if you want to try taking the hiking trail, the Momijidani course is ideal for beginners, and starts near Momijidani Station.
Following this trail, it takes about 1 hour and 10 minutes on foot to get to the Shishiiwa Observatory.
Personally, I would recommend walking.
When you reach the observatory, you will feel a sense of accomplishment and the scenery will look all the more beautiful.
Plus, the road to the observatory may not be as painful to climb if you think of it all as part of the scenery!
② Enchanting deer
Many deer live in Miyajima, and about 200 of them live in the city.
It's best to take photos or keep a little distance when watching them.
Although these are wild deer, they're all familiar with people.
This means you can see them relaxing, taking naps or looking directly at the camera.
Some deer even try to enter the shops.
They're really cute, so please enjoy watching the natural behaviors of these animals.
As these are wild deer, it is forbidden to approach, touch, or feed them.
③ Stunning sights from the ship
The island of Miyajima itself has lots of charm, but the views from the ferry that takes you there are also fantastic.
The sight of the approaching Miyajima and the view of the great torii gate seen from the ship are both exciting and wonderful.
I also took many photos before I even arrived at Miyajima.
Sure enough, traveling by boat is exciting, and although it's only a 10-minute ride, you can still enjoy this unique travel experience.
If you take the ferry, you should definitely go out on deck and enjoy the scenery.
From Miyajimaguchi to Miyajima, you can see the large torii gate on the right-hand side.
Please check it out!
As you can see, both Miyajima Island and Itsukushima Shrine are full of wonderful spots and beautiful scenery.
Why not go to Miyajima, a place that will surely steal your heart?