Miyajima Island is located in the west of Hiroshima Bay, 20 km away from the city of Hiroshima. It is shaped like a rectangle that covers a territory of 30 km. Although it is a small island, it has mountains 500 meters high, a very steep coastline, deep valleys and waterfalls.
Its real name is “Itsukushima” which literally means “cult island”. Since ancient times, the island itself was worshiped as a god. Within the region is the thousand-year-old Shinto shrine “Itsukushima-jinja”, so important is for Japan that the island was colloquially called “Miyajima”, “Sanctuary Island”. It is estimated that this site was founded in the year 593.
The original gate that looks as if it is floating on water called “O-Torii”, is the best known symbol of the shrine. It is 16mm tall, it was made from camphor trees that are 500-600 years old. Since August 2019, the large gate has been undergoing maintenance and will last approximately one year and two months, therefore the O-Torii will be covered with scaffolding during this period.
The mystical Itsukushima Shrine built on the water was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1996. The Itsukushima Shrine has become world famous, attracting visitors from all over Japan and the rest of the world.
Formerly, Miyajima was considered a strictly sacred place, so much so that ordinary people could not enter the island. These restrictions were later lifted. However, a rule that lasts to this day is that there can be no cemeteries on the island, no one can die, or give birth, due to its purity and sacred character.
The idea of paying homage at Itsukushima became popular with fishermen and merchants sailing in the Seto Inland Sea. In the Edo period, along with the pilgrimages to the Ise Shrine and the Shikoku shrines, the Itsukushima Shrine became the main destination for people living in western Japan to celebrate this ritual.
Mount Misen that is behind the famous shrine is very beautiful and from afar it gives the impression of having the shape of a female body, hinting to the villagers that the mountain itself is a “Kami” (Shinto God). A cable car leads up the mountain from the city, but it is also possible to go up on foot.
There are three hiking trails that lead to Misen: the Momijidani, the Daisho-in and the Omoto. Of the three, the Daisho-in course offers the best views and is not as steep as the other two. The Momijidani course, although the shortest, is also the steepest and leads mainly through the forest. Using any route, it takes between 1.5 to 2 hours to reach the summit from the city.
The maple valley called “Momiji-dani” is very famous for its red leaves in the fall. It is really very beautiful, its nature, the cherry trees in the spring, the fresh greenery in the summer and the reddening of the leaves of the trees in the fall are fascinating characteristics.
The island is also inhabited by cute deer that, although they are wild animals and you have to take care of them, they are quite friendly and hopefully you can share a little with them.
As a gastronomic specialty, the island has oysters that can be purchased in small restaurants dedicated to these dishes that are presented with different flavors and textures.
In addition to the island’s main shrine, “Itsukushima-jinja”, there are several Buddhist temples scattered throughout the island.
Miyajima has streets of souvenir shops, restaurants, and some ryokan (traditional Japanese hotels), but there are no convenience stores, and after 5 pm, the vast majority of establishments close, therefore it is recommended to take precautions.
Another recommendation is to take a boat that is generally found on the shore of the beach to take visitors to the great torii. In this way, the Itsukushima-jinja shrine and Mount Misen can also be fully observed.
Today Miyajima is considered one of the three most beautiful landscapes in Japan and one of the most important visits if you are in Hiroshima prefecture.