Itsukushima/Miyajima 厳島/宮島

After our walking tour we took the tram to an island off the coast of Hiroshima. We used our passes to board the ferry then headed about the island with the suggestions our guide had left us with. She’d given us a suggestion on a place to visit, a place to eat dinner and a warning about the deer.

  • Keep all paper and items in your bag. You don’t want them to eat your passport.
  • Be on guard they like to sneak up behind people and eat things sticking out of your back pocket
  • Guard your bags they’ll go for anything they can grab.
  • They will chase after you and jump on you to get at things you are carrying.
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deer resting peacefully

In our hurry to fit everything into our only full day in Hiroshima we hadn’t had lunch yet. We decided that we’d hit up all the temples first because of the time and then we’d get dinner. To tide us over, we stopped at a little shop for ice cream. There are several throughout the island and the island specialty seems to be “deer poop”.

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soft serve ice cream with little chocolate bits that look like deer droppings

Buying ice cream led to us being followed by deer for about ten minutes. They seemed to be determined that because we had ice cream that we would not only share but just hand it over to them. Taking this as a photo opportunity my uncle probably didn’t handle it in the best way and ended up with a deer jumping on him. He’s fine, he said it didn’t hurt, they’re small and light. But holding his ice cream out for the deer to smell and look at was not the smartest choice.

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a beautiful buck (male deer with antlers) with three drops of ice cream on it’s nose trying to get the rest of the ice cream.

Eventually our deer gave up when it found easier prey and we continued to one of the temples our guide had suggested.

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Entrance to Daishoin Temple (a Buddhist temple)

Daishoin Temple 大聖院

Daishoin temple is the furthest to visit. Prepare yourself for a lot of steps. Something that exhausted my uncle. It’s beautiful to visit. Once you make it to the steps I suggest (as our guide did) to go left. There’s a path that goes up and it’s filled with statues. At first you think, oh just a couple statues, but no, there’s ton, all wearing handmade hats. Our guide told us it was because people were concerned the spirits and gods would get cold, but it was also summer so they were probably sweltering in the heat.

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stone stairs lined with statues covered in little handmade hats, mostly red and white.

This temple is the oldest on the island and an important one of Shingon Buddhism as the site of where the founder, Kobo Daishi began his journey at the base of Mount Misen. Nearly 50,000 people making a pilgrimage to it a year. There’s a lot to look at including a “cave”, which is just a hall underneath one of the buildings filled with statues in a dimly lit space and not the cool temperature cave we thought we’d see. (And with the heat had hoped for) It’s about a twenty minute walk from the pier and is the start to the trail up Mount Misen which is an hour and a half hike. The temple is open from 8am until 5pm and is free.

 

Itsukushima shrine 厳島神社

After wandering around the temple we headed back down and towards Itsukushima shrine. By the time we reached the edge of the temple my uncle was exhausted, so we found him a seat on the edge of the beach and my aunt went to get him a beer. I headed out to get a closer look at the Tori gate.

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About a couple minutes in, when I was too far from shore but not close enough to the gate, I realized that every step was filled with uncomfortable crunching sounds. I looked down and noticed that for as far as I could see the ground was covered in tiny hermit crabs. I had to decide whether or not to continue my walk to the shrine or head back. I decided to continue, apologizing as I went and hoping their shells were strong enough to protect them. It wasn’t easy to get a picture of the Torii gate without people in it. Eventually I gave up trying to get a picture of it with the water and just went for a picture of it with the mountains in the background and then hurried back. If you walk out to the gate wear shoes. They sell crocs at some of the nearby shops, which I’m sure is fine but I spotted a couple beached jellyfish on my way back to shore and I’m not convinced that crocs can protect your feet the same way tennis shoes or boots could.

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I found my uncle sitting on a stone bench overlooking the gate enjoying a beer. There were a couple different kinds on the island. We’d passed at least one on the way in with deer on the logo, which while my uncle was stumbling to dinner I ran off to get. There’s a little shop next to the Starbucks on the island that sells it and they speak English.

After he finished his beer, we tried to find the entrance to the temple. Turned out we were on the wrong side of it. There’s only one entrance to the temple and it spits you out where we were, so we had to walk to the other side and re-walk the same way we’d already gone three other times. It wasn’t good for our already exhausted selves but I didn’t want to come all the way to the island and not walk the main temple.

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Itsukushima Shrine is a Shinto shrine that is considered one of the top three most beautiful spots in Japan. The temple was built and used often by Taira no Kiyomori, who became one of the most powerful samurai clan rulers of Kyoto and a key political figure at the time. The shrine worships the three daughters of Susanoo (god of storms) that were born from his (Susanoo) sword.

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The majority of the temple is covered so it’s a great spot to walk around when it’s raining (like while we were there) or to escape the sun. During high tide the water comes up close to the temple giving it the illusion that it’s floating. It’s also a great spot to view or get pictures of the gate.

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The shrine is open from 6:30 am until 6pm and costs 300 yen to visit. While visiting any time is absolutely beautiful I highly suggest visiting during high tide. We’d missed it since it had been around noon which was when we were at the peace park on our tour. One of the places you can view the tide schedule is here. Even though the temple may not be open you can still see the gate from other parts of the island and even from boats. They also light up both at night.

There is a spot where you can walk out over the water (during high tide) and get a beautiful photo of the gate. I’m sure it gets quite crowded during high tide, but I also think it’s probably one of the best spots to get a picture during high tide.

After we left the temple we wandered back towards the ferry and towards the place our guide suggested we stop for dinner, making it our fourth time walking along the outside of the shrine. At this point my uncle was not doing well. We’d over done it for the day hurrying from one end of the island to the other to see as much as we could after a morning and afternoon of hiking the peace park. Dinner though was a necessity since we hadn’t had lunch (unless you count beer and ice cream). Thankfully the suggested spot by our guide was along the way, so we could go inside and sit down.

Mame-tanuki 宿屋食堂アンドバー まめたぬき

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The restaurant we wanted was part of a hotel with an onsen. It was the perfect time to stop in and get a bite to eat since they’d only just opened for dinner. I was starving and getting a little hangry. But we were also in a bit of a hurry to eat and get my uncle back to the hotel. My aunt and uncle had been wanting to try eel and according to our afternoon guide this was the best place to get it.

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Hiroshima is also famous for lemons so I got a local non-alcoholic lemon drink

The restaurant was on the first floor of the hotel and in the back besides a statue of a Tanuki, which we’d learned was a bit of a souped-up lucky cat. Lucky cats or Maneki-neko/beckoning cats usually have a paw in the air and can be found at many shops and restaurants. Though the meaning can differ, in general the paw raised means something different, so a left raised paw can be an invitation for more customers and prosperity (and sometimes this paw is saved for more adult establishments), and the right paw can be to welcome money or fortune. It’s considered a bit greedy to have a cat with both paws up. That’s where the tanuki comes in. A tanuki (racoon dog) usually has a lot going on. It wears a big straw hat to protect the building, carries a money bag to bring in money, and holds a sake container to provide for food and drink. The tanuki wasn’t always a creature of good fortune or luck, it’s also a shape shifting mischievous creature of folklore.

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We ended up splitting 穴子とかきフライの共宴, which was their big set menu. This included the conger eel (sea eel) on a bed of rice, deep fried oysters, miso soup, and some small sides. It was 2,490 yen. (~$25)  It was all good. Service was a bit slow though and they had the air conditioning cranked high. We ended up giving my uncle the miso soup and ordering him some hot tea since he felt feverish and chilly. It’s not a meal I would suggest splitting. Not if you’re super hungry. I could’ve eaten it on my own (though probably I would’ve just ordered the eel set without the oysters), but because we were in a hurry and our service was slow splitting the meal was the quickest way to eat something and then hurry to catch the ferry to get my uncle back to the hotel. It was good but you should also keep in mind that it’s a bit expensive and one of the few places open on the island after 5:30/6pm.

After our meal we headed back to the ferry. Because we had our passes we took the Miyajima Matsudai Ferry back. The Miyajima Matsudai ferry runs from 7-10ish every ten minutes. You can find the schedule here. The other ferry is run by JR which runs a little earlier and later and that schedule is here.  I had a great time visiting the island but highly suggest starting your day there instead of ending it. By getting there later in the day our time felt short and rushed to see and visit temples before they closed. I think we did the best route we could’ve and we did everything we wanted to, just not in the time we’d wanted. Plus most souvenir shops were closed by the time we finished at the shrine.

If you’re curious of the route we took I’ve included maps of our paths. Do be careful if you’re on a time crunch or having a low energy day because some of the “quicker” paths might include stairs which we tried to avoid with my uncle, thus leading to us walking along the shore and the shrine a lot.  There’s also plenty of other things to do and even places to stay on the island, you could easily spend a whole day or even a day and night there.

 

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