Cool Topic Culture/History HIROSHIMA Travel

Miyajima; Shrine Island. Exploring the nature and culture in Hiroshima Bay

In the northwest of Hiroshima Bay, nestled amongst sandy beaches and crashing waves densely covered in woodlands lies an island. It’s leafy green peaks rise above the sea surrounding it, and a large orange torii gate stands alone in the sea, as if floating. It is one of the most iconic and celebrated scenes in all of Japan.

It is Miyajima.

Miyajima Shrine Sunshine
Itsukushima’s famous Torii gates are one of Hayashi Gaho’s (1643) celebrated Three Views of Japan. A canonical and iconic image of Japan. Photo: James Rodgers

Japan’s Iconic ‘Shrine Island’

Originally named Itsukushima, the island’s name derives from the Island’s many temples and shrines. (Miyajima literally means ‘Shrine Island’ in Japanese.) The island features 2 major shrines, and three temples. Itsukushima shrine, the most famous on the Island, has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1996, and it’s floating torii gate remains one of the most iconic images not only of Miyajima, but of Japan. The UNESCO World Heritage webpage cite the shrines excellent 12th Century aristocratic residential style architecture, that perfectly symbolises the Shinto shrine style, as well as the beautiful backdrop of Miyajma’s mountainous terrain as the reasoning behind its protected status. The shrines torii gate stands out to sea and is partly immersed in water at high tide giving it the appearance as if it is floating. This sight is the true attraction of Itsukushima shrine, and one of the reasons it has become so iconic.

Miyajima Pagoda
The five storied pagoda or Gojunoto lies near the other major shrine in Miyajima: Senjokaku (Toyokuni Shrine). Photo: James Rodgers

Hidden Temples To Explore

Whilst it’s certainly true that Itsukushima shrine is the iconic image of Miyajima, the remaining temples and shrines are still some of the most beautiful in Japan. Amongst them Daisho-ji is in my opinion the best. The temple is huddled amongst cloves of trees and beautifully landscaped rock formations. Walking around the temple is a wondrous experience; the trees in the garden obscure other temple buildings, providing an air of enigma, and making the temple delightfully fun to explore. It seems every time you round a corner you are confronted by a new discovery.

Miyajima Deer Waterfall
The perfect nature scene just outside Daisho-ji Temple. A fawn and its mother graze, oblivious to how picturesque they make the scene. Photo: James Rodgers

The Nature In Miyajima Is Some Of The Best In Japan

The natural sights to be seen on Miyajima are really quite beautiful. Mt Misen is the highest peak on the island, summiting at around 535 metres, and is a perfect observation point for the many other small islands littered around Hiroshima Bay. The hike to the top is stunning at every stage, from the dense woodland, the waterfalls along the way, and once you begin to reach the top; the stunning views of rolling tree-topped mountains.

Miyajima Mountain Hike
Miyajima’s tree-topped and luscious mountains stretch out before the hikers who reach the top. In the distance you can spot the Japanese mainland. Photo: James Rodgers

The Infamous Miyajima Deer

The nature on Miyajima, is not limited to just flora either, the island is also inhabited by deer. The deer are far less tame than in other popular tourists spots throughout Japan, such as Nara. You have to keep a close eye on them and your belongings to avoid the latter being chewed upon. The Shinto religion views deers as sacred messengers of the gods, and in Miyajima they certainly act as if they are there by special emissary of the divine. Their temerity is ultimately their endearing factor however, and they add real character to the town.

Miyajima Deer
The deers are always pleased to meet new people. They know very well those on the island that walk on 2 legs often carry food with them. Photo: James Rodgers

If you haven’t already been to check this place out, you need to. You can use Hiroshima as your base, and go spend some time in one of Japan’s most beautiful locations for a day of cultural and natural rapture.

Itsukushima Shrine, 〒739-0588 Hiroshima-ken, Hatsukaichi-shi, Miyajimachō, 1−1.

Words and Photographs by James Rodgers

Copyright James Rodgers and The World Wide Watch

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