I just got back from a week long trip through Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Ehime. One of the (many) highlights of the trip was the famous island of Miyajima.
Why is it famous?
Well, mainly because of the historic significance, natural beauty, and uniqueness of the island of Miyajima. It’s on the UNESCO World Heritage list and I’ve been dying to visit it for years. As you can see below, I got my wish!
And now I want to share with y’all, in case you get the chance to visit Miyajima too. In no particular order, here are my top ten things you should see in Miyajima, Hiroshima (Japan).
1. Visit the O-torii Gate
Hands down, the O-torii gate is the symbol of Miyajima.
It made from camphor wood and painted bright orange (red, in certain lighting). It standings 16 meters tall and is known for it’s unique Shinden style architecture. It was built about 200 meters out in the ocean away from the main shrine, Itsukushima shrine, so that during high tide it appears to be floating and during low tide you can walk around and under it.
Our guide recommended visiting the O-torii gate twice: once during high tide when the gate is the most beautiful, with the bright orange reflecting off the crystal blue water and once during low tide, so you could walk right up to the gate and examine it closely.
We were only able to see it during low tide but have definite plans to visit again someday during high tide. I’ve seen pictures – it’s gorgeous.
2. Drink local Miyajima Beer
Miyajima beer is made at the Miyajima Brewery on the island. You can find cans or bottles of this stuff in small shops all over the town. Since drinking in public is legal in Japan (okay, so it’s legal in most countries, but it’s not in America which is why I’m adding this in here), you can get a bottle of local beer and find a nice place to relax on the side of the mountain, while gazing out over the O-torii gate, shrine, town, and water.
Cost: 500yen – 580yen
3. Try not to get eaten by the deer
Wild deer roam free all over the island. For the most part, they’re perfectly tame… except they will try to eat everything! Your flyers, your dress, your bag, the snack you were munching on – be careful!
The day we visited was so hot that most of the deer were just hanging out in the shade.
Cost: free (??)
4. Visit Itsukushima Shrine
Itsukushima Shrine is an absolutely stunning shrine first built in the late 6th century and then later remodeled into the current building, a Shinden style of architecture, in 1168.
It is located a stone’s throw from the ocean and was specifically designed to look like it was floating in the sea during high tide. A couple times a year, the water rises all the way to the bottom of the (open) floorboards, creating a mysterious and memorable illusion.
We weren’t there during the “once in a blue moon” illusion but our local guide showed us some photos of what it looks like when the tide is at its peak.
This series of red lacquered halls on stilts has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site (one of the two in Hiroshima).
The O-torii gate sits about 200 meters in front of Itsukushima shrine.
5. Snap some shots at the Five-storied Pagoda and Toyokuni Shrine (also known as Senjokaku)
Standing at roughly 28 meters, this five stories pagoda is a splendid mix of Japanese architecture and Tang Dynasty Chinese architecture. It was built in 1407 and has a hollow interior, aside from a full color painting of Buddha on the inside wall.
Toyokuni Shrine (also known as Senjokaku shrine, literally 1000 mat pavilion) houses a collection of Buddhist sutras collected by Hideyoshi Toyotomi. It’s a giant wooden hall large enough to lay down 857 tatami mats and decorated with wooden plaques. The building started construction in 1587 but when Toyotomi died in 1598 construction stopped.
Cost: Pagoda is free and Toyokuni Shrine is 100yen to enter
6. Drink coffee from a local cafe
Miyajima has a surprising number of local, independent coffee shops and cafes, many of which roast and sell their own beans. We stopped by one for a shot of espresso and wanted to drop by another for a nice, relaxing iced coffee… but we ran out of time!
Cost: 250yen – 600yen
7. Ride the Miyajima Ropeway up to Mt. Misen
Sitting at 530 meters above sea level, Mt. Misen offers an exquisite view of the island and surrounding sea. You can take a ropeway most of the way up, (aside from the last 150 meter hike) or, if you’re feeling spry, you can tackle the mountain by foot.
The mountain is especially lovely during fall, when all the maple trees are changing color.
Cost: Climbing is free. Ropeway is 1000yen for a oneway ticket or 1800yen for a round trip ticket.
8. Stroll through Machiya-Dori Ave and Omotesando Shopping Arcade
Omotesando Shopping Arcade is a 300 meter street, lined with shops selling souvenirs (pottery, omiyage, woodcraft, postcards, art) and local cuisine. This is where we found age momiji monja and grilled oysters, along with coffee, fresh green tea, senbei rice crackers, ice cream, shaved ice, and regular momiji manju.
Machiya Dori Ave is just one street behind Omotesando Shopping Arcade. Machiya street lacks the fanfare and shopping appeal of Omotesando (and therefore also lacks the crowds). Instead, this street provides a glimpse into Miyajima’s local life, a nice blend of modern and historic buildings of timber lattice work and white walls.
Cost: free (aside from all the stuff you will probably buy)
9. Eat freshly cooked oysters
Hiroshima accounts for over half the Japanese domestic oyster production – and the quality of Hiroshima oysters is astounding. You can eat them raw, grilled, deep fried, as oyster meshi, in a hotpot or in okonomiyaki.
I had oysters broiled on a grill, overflowing with oyster juice (and a hint of lemon) and grilled oyster with conger eel on top from a stall along Machiya-Dori Ave. Both were absolutely delicious!
Cost: 400yen – 600yen
10. Eat momiji monja (especially age momoji monja)
Momiji, or maple leaf, is the prefectural tree of Hiroshima. Monja is a light and fluffy batter with a generous helping of red bean paste in the center. The Miyajima-style age-momiji-monja takes that light and fluffy batter and deep fries it until it resembles tempura. Fillings are red bean paste, cheese, or cream.
It tasted like a tempura-ed donut (aka, happiness).
As far as I know, the age momiji monja is only sold in Miyajima. We got ours at the shop Koyodou on the Omotesando shopping street.