Visiting the legendary shrine island09 March, 2011 by Chad
Today was our last day staying in Osaka before we returned to Tokyo tomorrow. But instead of staying around the Kansai area, we were to brave the trip down to Hiroshima to visit the famous Itsukushima Island and hopefully pay our respects at the Peace Memorial Park.
Despite being more than 350 kilometers away, the journey took only 2 hours by bullet train. Still, this gave us plenty of time to have our breakfast aboard and perhaps get some extra shuteye.
The meat pie was normal. Kochakaden by the Coca-Cola Company sells what is arguably the best bottled milk tea in Japan. Saw this weird strawberry flavored one for sale at the train station and absolutely had to try it. It turned out to be more like strawberry milk though.
The Ferry Terminal was just a short distance from the train station. There are some competing ferries here, one of which was run by JR and thus covered by the Rail Pass.
Itsukushima is of course better known by the nickname of Miyajima (Shrine Island). The island is particularly famous for the Itsukushima Shrine and its torii gate in the middle of the sea, that is oh so often shown in travel photos. The scenery from the island is regarded as just one of Japan’s 3 greatest views but is probably the most identifiable thanks to the prominent red torii.
As with any famous site like Miyajima, there was bound to be lots of tourists around but the island was pretty big so the crowds were spread out. But I guess it might get pretty bad during the peak season.
Like Nara, the island was also home to a bunch of deer. There just weren’t as many.
You could visit the torii gate and see most of the sights without having to pay a cent. But it didn’t cost much to enter the shrine area. The Itsukushima Shrine is also popular spot to hold traditional Shinto styled weddings and we would encounter two such events back to back.
Almost every shrine in Japan has these Ema tablets, which are a streamlined means of making a wish in exchange for a monetary donation to the shrine. A group of women spent a long time here amusing themselves with the different messages people have written on the boards.
The last time I checked, the tide timings weren’t exactly to our favor. But it coincidentally got low enough to attempt to approach the torri gate after we were done looking around the shrine.
During the low tide, the base of the gate was exposed and people could walk up to the gate to get a feel of the impressive structure. Remember how I said the Japanese are always on the lookout to find ways to throw away their money? The seabed here was lined with coins of all denominations! Though it was mostly just 1 to 10 yen coins. Still it probably amounted to quite a bit and that was just the surface.
The main achievement was fitting your coins into the torii gate itself. People would slot coins between cracks or the mollusks growing on the gate. Even the cracks way out of reach were filled with coins. I guess all the coins on the floor were failed tries to toss them up there.
After we were done messing around at the gate we stopped by a nearby shop for lunch. For some reason, a lot of the other tourists on the island already started making their way back.
Lunch was affordable and good. Even though it was just generic udon the oyster were really fresh. None of that fishy or metallic taste you’d normally affiliate with oysters. Makes me wonder what exactly is in the oysters we eat back in Singapore.
Inside, we debated over whether to sit the ropeway up the mountain. Mount Misen was a famous holy place and the view of the surrounding ocean on the other side of the mountain was bound to be incredible. A two way trip cost 1800 yen so Yan wasn’t too keen but Wilson and I were up for the idea.
Unfortunately, we would soon learn that the ropeway service was closed for maintenance. Thus explaining why everyone else had left the island so quickly.
Climbing the mountain wasn’t an option, since it would take at least an hour or two and we didn’t have that much daylight left so we wandered around Momiji Park for a while before heading back to civilization. Most of the shops here were also the homes of retired folk on the island and selling stuff was more like a side (but profitable) hobby of theirs. Some of the shops/houses along the back roads didn’t even have anyone attending to them at all.
We came across a deer hanging outside one of the shops and Yan decided to feed it some Guilingao (medicinal jelly) gummy. I tried some before, it was pretty nasty but the deer liked it and started following us around for a while.
Amidst the houses was a hill with a temple and pagoda overlooking the shrine. The entry fee was pretty steep and we already had our fill of impressive places of worship so we gave it a miss, heading down to the shopping street instead which was called Omotesando too.
I’ve heard that during autumn, the trees on the island all turn red for a rather beautiful sight. Appropriately, one of the island’s specialties (other than the seafood) were these leaf shaped buns called Momiji (Autumn leaf) manju. Other than the shape, there really wasn’t anything to differentiate it from normal manju but it was pretty delicious anyways.
The first store along the long shopping street was the largest Momiji manju shop on the island. They made them fresh here so you could buy individual ones to eat while they were still warm. They were really best eaten hot. Those that cooled down were taken away to be packaged and sold in the gift packs. Wilson ended up grabbing a box.
I assumed that perhaps it was the most popular shop for its location at the mouth of the street but after trying the manju from some other shops too, I had to admit that the first shop really did have the best.
Yan disappeared to buy some roasted chestnuts from the shop here. Tasted like well…chestnuts. While he was off, Wilson and I eyed this pub type place selling fresh oysters on the grill outside. Both the owner and her young daughter were pretty large so I concluded that the oysters must had been pretty awesome. They were. Best oysters eaten off the shell ever.
What’s more, whenever the owner opened an oyster for you and it turned out to be smaller than normal, she would throw in another one free.
It was getting pretty late so we headed to the port to take the ferry back to Hiroshima.
Other than Itsukushima, the only other thing on the itinerary today was to visit the Peace Memorial Park. A combination of it being further than we expected and us taking the long way around the river meant that we would reach there after we had ran out of precious daylight.
The area was completely pitch dark but at least the A-dome was slightly lighted so we managed to find it eventually. By then the museum had long closed and it was too dark to make out the other monuments in the park so we spent some time here solemnly.
After which, it was time to head back to Osaka city. Unlike other cities its size, Hiroshima didn’t have an extensive train network. To get from place to place you’d have to take these streetcars called Hiroden. Both modern and classic streetcars were still in service but either were still incredibly slow so we had to factor in the 50 minutes it would take the tram to return to Hiroshima Station which was just 5 kilometers away. Walking wouldn’t had been any slower, just more tiring.
The train back to Osaka was rather empty. If not for our passes, a trip on a Shinkansen would cost a bomb so it’s not everyday that the locals get to sit it either. It’s easy to forget exactly how far we were traveling, when the trains did it so quickly.
Dinner was spent on the train so as to make it back early enough to pack up our luggage for tomorrow’s trip back to Tokyo. Before boarding, we had grabbed some random supermarket foods from the basement of a departmental stall called “Asse”.
Stuff were just so cheap, fresh or just neatly packaged that it’s really hard to resist grabbing everything in sight when in a Japanese supermarket.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.