Miya-jima, which literally means "Shrine Island", is the better-known name for the sacred Itsukushima Shrine founded in 593 A.D. It is a long and narrow island with a coastline measuring about 30 kilometers. The Itsukushima-jinja Shrine in Miya-jima, found in the northern part of the island, has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996.
Arriving in Miya-jima from Hiroshima
You can get to Miya-jima from Hiroshima or mainland Japan either by JR train, Hiroshima Dentetsu streetcar, or ferryboat.
The JR train ride from Hiroshima station to Miyajimaguchi station in the island, as well as the ferryboat ride from Ujina Port in Hiroshima to the Miya-jima Pier, takes only an average of 25 minutes.
By streetcar, the ride from Hiroden-Hiroshima station to Hiroden-Miyajimaguchi station takes approximately 65 minutes.
Miya-jima's main attractions
Upon your arrival, don't be surprised to see roaming Sika deer that are accustomed to having tourists and visitors around. Just be careful with your belongings at hand, since they are most likely to eat anything, including ferryboat tickets, shoe strings, leaflets, and the like.
The walk from the pier to Itsukushima Shrine takes only 10 minutes. Photographers flock to the famous shrine for its "floating" effect, influenced by a unique Japanese architectural style called Shinden Zukuri. The shrine's main building, set against a blue-green sea and lush mountains, is painted in a striking vermillion that is seemingly ablaze during the day.
The Itsukushima Shrine is also highlighted by its side attractions, such as the Otorii or Grand Grate, the Honden or Main Sanctuary, the Takabutai or High Stage, the Hirabutai or Broad Stafe, the Noh Butai or Noh Stage, the Soribashi or Arched Bridge, and the Kairo or Corridor. During the day, expect to see Japanese priests dressed in traditional garbs, walking along the shrine corridors. At night, lights bathe the shrine in a majestic glow.
As you continue to explore the island, expect to see a number of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Among the most sacred sites are the Gojunoto or Five-Storied Pagoda, built in 1407 as a fusion of Chinese and Japanese architectural styles, and the Senjokaku or the Hall of One Thousand Tatami Mats, the largest building found in Miya-jima.
Where to stay and what to do in Miya-jima
The traditional inn or ryokan is perhaps the best option for visitors who are aiming for an authentic Japanese experience. There is nothing like sleeping on a rolled out tatami mat after a day of walking and meditation. Ryokan inns offer an understated yet elegant appeal with their sliding paper screens, quaint tea sets, and cotton robes or yukata.
Delicacies offered in a Miya-jima ryokan include rice cakes, maple leaf-shaped sweet-bean buns, and oysters and eels freshly caught in the Seto Sea. After a generous meal and a good night's rest, prepare for stroll down Omotesando shopping street, which is a bustling 350-stretch that ends with a spectacular view of the Otorii or Grand Gate. This popular street sells souvenir and gift items such as replica swords, wooden spoons, miniature relief statues, and Japanese paper fans.
If you're brave enough, you can even sample a scoop or two of their famous wasabi-flavored ice cream—it's definitely worth a try!