Have you ever seen the photo of the torii gate in the water when you Google or look up any photos about Japan? Have you ever wondered where it is? The answer to that question is the island of Miyajima. Miyajima is located off the coast of Hiroshima. It’s easily accessible from the city by ferry and is a fantastic place to sped the day. Let’s look at some fun facts about the island.
Deer Are Everywhere!
Deer freely roam the island of Miyajima and are not shy at all about coming up to you. If you have anything in your hands, they will not hesitate to chew on it. Maps included! Why? Deer were considered to be sacred messenger animal of the gods. Until 1637, to kill a deer was punishable by death. There are estimated to be about 1200 deer on the island. There are many announcements warning visitors not to feed them, but it’s usually ignored.
The Famous Torii Gate
As I mentioned earlier, the famous torii gate that is one of the most heavily photographed landmarks in Japan is on Miyajima island. A torii gate is actually a spiritual entrance gate to a Japanese Shinto shrine. It marks the official boundary between the human and spiritual worlds. Shinto is the only native religion in Japan. There is a heavy emphasis placed on nature; for example, Amaterasu, the sun goddess, is the most important deity in the Shinto religion.
The Miyajima torii gate was built in 1168. Why is it red? It’s actually considered vermilion. Vermilion is the color to ward off evil spirits in the Shinto religion. During the low tide, it is accessible to walk to the gate. if you choose to do so, please ensure you have shoes that will be able to handle large amount of mud! It’s said that sunset or dusk is the best time to photograph the gate.
Watch Out for Monkeys Hiking Mount Misen
When I went to Miyajima in 2007, I really wanted to hike to the top of Mount Misen. It was supposed to have some of the best views on the island. What I wasn’t prepared for was seeing so wild monkeys! Maybe it was the time of year, but they were in quite a few trees on the hike up! I was told people don’t see them too often anymore.
It takes about 2 hours to reach the top by foot. There are 3 courses you can take if you decide to hike it. The climb is steep and can be challenging at times, if you can’t hike, take the ropeway. From there you can hike 20 minutes to the observation deck and still enjoy a great view! The ropeway only takes cash payments for the tickets! Plan accordingly.
Enjoy the Local Momiji Manjyu
Manjyu are some of my favorite Japanese sweets. They are a little different from mochi in that they are sweeter and contain azuki beans. Miyajima island has some of the most unique flavors of the variant called momiji manjyu. I liked the green tea flavored one the best!
Shrines and Temples Galore
What’s the difference between a shrine and a temple. A temple is usually tied to the Buddhist religion and a shrine to Shinto. There are quite a few examples of beautiful temples and shrines on Miyajima. My favorite is the Itsukushima Shrine. The island itself takes its name from this shrine. It sits on the water and appears to float at high tide.
Itsukushima Shrine was built in 593 and has been rebuilt a few times since then. Purity was hugely important in medieval Japan. Commoners were not allowed to visit the shrine until they had passed through the sacred torii gate and pier. No births and deaths were allowed on the island (and still aren’t) as they are two of the most unpure things (for lack of a better term) to occur. I’ll cover more temples and other parts of the shrine in a future post.
These are just a few of the points of interest on Miyajima Island. There are so many things to cover about it, it deserves a long and in depth post. No that you’re aware of it, maybe you’ll consider going to it. I certainly didn’t know what to expect my first time. I’ll be a little slow at posting this week due to work and upcoming trip preparations, but until next time,happy travels!