The famous shrine island09 July, 2011 by Chad
To most people Itsukushima Island will be better known simply as Miyajima, which translates literally as the shrine island. As one of Japan’s three views and undeniably the most graphic of the three, Miyajima has become a poster child for tourism in the country. It was only necessary that I pay a visit to this world famous landmark.
Itsukushima/Miyajima itself is part of the Hiroshima Prefecture in South West Japan. It is most easily accessed from the capital city of the same name.
There are trains to Hiroshima from pretty much any major city in Japan. Japan’s a pretty big place so for a rough idea of the distance, getting to Hiroshima from Tokyo takes a minimum of at least 4 hours by plane or 5 hours by bullet train. If you’re wielding a Japan Rail Pass of some kind, the second option makes more sense as the fair will be covered in full.
You’ll be glad to know that the JR West company also runs the JR Sanyo train line in Hiroshima which will take you from the main Hiroshima Station to the ferry terminal at Miyajima-guchi.
Finally, one of the two ferries to Miyajima is run by the JR company, which is also free for travel with the Japan Rail Pass in hand.
The main attractions at the island are the Itsukushima Shrine and the red torii gate in the sea that belongs to the shrine.
The Itsukushima Shrine is built from the coast and extends over the Seto Inland Sea. It is one of Japan’s most sacred shrines and one of the few that have been explicitly designated as a National Treasure by the Japanese government. While entry to the shrine is not necessary to see see the torii, the experience is recommended. Entry costs just 300 yen.
Itsukushima’s famous giant red torii gate has been erected in the middle of the sea, such that during high tide it appears to be floating on the water. This iconic scene has been reproduced in countless travel encounters such that its image has become synonymous with tourism in Japan.
Countless tourists both foreign and local visit the island daily to pay the shrine and its torii a visit. The sea floor surrounding the shrine is exposed during low tide and allows for an up close look of the torii gate on foot.
Itsukushima makes for a pleasant day trip provided you are staying at a remotely nearby city. I personally traveled to Hiroshima from Osaka, which was a 2 hour journey by Shinkansen and it took another half an hour to actually touch onto the island from there. The full day’s trip costs next to nothing with a JR Pass.
You’ll want to start the day early if you want to be able to be there during the right tide. If it’s a good season and you make it there early enough, you’ll want to visit the sacred Mount Misen that overlooks the island and sea. Itsukushima is known for being especially beautiful in the Autumn when all of the maple leaves there turn red for the fall.
There are also other smaller shrines to be seen if you have the time or interest and the newly overhauled Miyajima Public Aquarium will be reopening next month in August 2011.
Most of the rest of the island is occupied by residences owned by retired folk. Thanks to the steady flow of visitors, many of them run small craft or food stores out of the buildings. The local specialty are maple leaf shaped buns called Momiji manju as well as the fresh seafood (clams, oysters and seaweed in particular) gathered from the seabed.
Strangely, the island itself doesn’t feel too over commercialized despite being such a popular tourist destination, instead there is a general feeling of peace and serenity on the island as far as the locals are concerned. Though your own enjoyment will largely depend on the cooperation of the other visitors on the island that day.
Enjoy the rest of these shots taken at the island.
Click here for a detailed photo wallk through of our encounter with Itsukushima.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.