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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Miyajima Island (Itsukushima Shrine)

宮島/厳島神社

Torii gate at Itsukushima ShrineMiyajima is a sacred island just off the coast of Hiroshima City and makes a great day trip from the city.

The island is best known for Itsukushima Shrine and its massive torii gates that, depending upon the time of day, are partially under water. The shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the island is one of Japan's “three most scenic spots” (the other two being Matsushima, near Sendai; and Aminohashidate, which is on the Japan Sea in Kyoto Prefecture).

The shrine was founded in the seventh century and then rebuilt in 1168—taking on the form that it still has—thanks to the generosity of warlord Taira no Kiyamori.

Itsukushima Shrine is built on top of a dock, jutting into a bay. Though much closer to shore than the torii gate, the shrine itself is exposed to the elements; when the tide comes in waters lap at the giant poles supporting the shrine.

The torii gate was also built in 1168 and is roughly 16 meters (50 feet) high. When the tide goes out, you can walk up to the foot of the giant torii.

When you get off the ferry, you will be greeted by “wild” deer. Like those in Nara, the deer are quite tame and spend the day resting in the shade and occasionally hustling tourists for handouts.

Itsukushima ShrineThe island is small and can be taken in on foot. The only place that will cause anyone to break a sweat is the hike up Mt. Misen. For those averse to sweat, there is a ropeway that will set you back 1,800 for a roundtrip ticket.

Getting there

From Hiroshima Station, take the JR Line to Miyajima-guchi. It costs 400 yen, and the ride takes about 25 minutes. From there you will take a short ferry ride to the island.

Another option is to take street car line #2, which runs from Hiroshima Station past the Atomic Dome and on to Miyajima-guchi, the final stop. It costs 270 yen from Hiroshima, but takes more than an hour. If you are going to be traveling in and around Hiroshima, a one-day pass for the street cars is a very convenient and reasonable option. The one-day pass is 840 yen for adults and is also good for the ferry ride.

The ferry takes 10 minutes and is 170 yen one-way.

Other Sites

Miyajima Municipal History and Folklore Museum
57 Miyajima-cho, Saeki-gun, Hiroshima
(0829) 44-2019

This used to be the home of the Egami family. The house itself is a massive and beautiful pile, and it exhibits the belongings of this wealthy family.

Daisho-in temple is near Itsukushima and is worth the trip. If you have children, the Aquarium is also fun. The seal show and penguin feeding kept our nine-year-old happy after one too many temples.

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