Part 3 of my Japan trip brings us to Miyajima, a less well known place to overseas tourists. It is an island near Hiroshima and is known to the locals as one of the top three most scenic places in Japan. By ferry, it takes only 10 minutes to get to Miyajima from Hiroshima. Even though it can be easily done as a day trip, we spent a night there which was a wise decision as this is the best way to truly experience Miyajima.
Miyajima is famous for its giant torii gate which is surrounded by water during high tide but accessible by foot during low tide. The torii gate is part of Itsukushima Shrine which is also built over water. A torii gate is a divider between our world and the spiritual world. This particular gate was built in the sea as the entire Miyajima island is a sacred place. To fully appreciate the uniqueness of the torii gate, we checked the timings for the tide and timed our visits so that we can see it during both high and low tide. The experience was very different. It is definitely more beautiful during high tide but during low tide, we get to walk right up to it and appreciate how big it is, certainly the biggest torii gate I’ve seen.
A key reason for spending a night in Miyajima is to appreciate the tranquility and beauty of the island. Most visitors leave before sunset, as there aren’t many places to stay on the island and nothing much to see/do other than the shrine and torii gate. This makes walking around at night very romantic, as the shrine and torii gate are illuminated, it is high tide so the gate appears to be floating on the water and there are many traditional lamps along the waterfront. It felt as if we had been transported to a fantasy world, sort of like the anime Spirited Away.
We stayed in Ryoso Kawaguchi, a ryokan (traditional Japanese guest house) which was one of our best stays in Japan. It is run by a friendly husband and wife team and felt very personal and cozy. We slept in a traditional tatami room for the first time and I slept like a log (which is rare for me). We had to share a bathroom which was not an issue at all. There are two common bathrooms, both Japanese style, i.e. a big wooden tub where the whole family can bathe together. This was where we learned the etiquette for Japanese bathing, which I will cover in my next post about hot springs.
We had dinner and breakfast in the ryokan, which is usually the case when staying in a ryokan and certainly makes sense in Miyajima where there aren’t many restaurants. The dinner was multi-course but it was not luxurious like Kaiseki cuisine. We really enjoyed the food, which was tasty, healthy and simple home cooked food. All in all, the night we spent here made us feel like we had a taste of traditional Japanese life.
After our one night stay in Miyajima, we felt refreshed and relaxed. It was a shame that we had to leave to go back to the hustle and bustle of Hiroshima.