MIYAJIMA, Japan – In many ways, the tranquil 15-minute ferry ride is indicative of what lies ahead. The island of Itsukushima, popularly known as Miyajima, is like a step back in time with its dirt roads and wildlife roaming through the city’s streets.
This scenic hamlet located off the coast of Hiroshima – not to mention the beaten path – might not top most guidebooks’ lists of must-see places to visit in Japan. But given its close proximity to Hiroshima, a city many travelers are likely to visit, Miyajima is one destination worth exploring, considering it is such an easy day trip from there.
Miyajima – which means “shrine place” – is considered to be holy, and for years, dying was not allowed on the island. To this day, there are no cemeteries or hospitals there.
The Itsukushima Shrine, a Shinto shrine, one of the island’s main attractions, is somewhat of an engineering marvel in that it was built over the water. The original shrine dates to the sixth century, though the current one dates to the 12th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The shrine’s floating torri – or gate – is an attraction unto itself and marks the transition from the everyday world into the sacred shrine. The particular torri is one of the country’s most picturesque landmarks. In high tide, it looks as though the gate is floating on the water, hence its name. In low tide, it is easily accessible via foot, making it a popular picture spot for tourists.
One of the more unique attractions, not just on the island, but anywhere, is the world’s largest spatula, measuring 5 meters long. Well-known for its spatulas, this oversized utensil is on display along one of the city’s main streets.
In addition, the island offers extensive shopping options and even a couple of hotels for those looking to enjoy the island at night. Perhaps, most interesting, tame deer wander the city’s streets looking for food handouts from tourists. Until 2007, visitors to the island could buy food to feed the deer, but the city has since introduced a feeding ban.
The only way to access Miyajima is by ferry. Japan Railways operates one of the two ferries between the mainland and Itsukushima, so travelers with a Japan Railways Rail Pass can hop the ferry without paying any additional fee.
To access the ferry, take Japan Railways’ Sanyo Line from the JR Hiroshima Station to Miyajima-guchi, a roughly 20-minute train ride. It’s also possible to take Hiroshima’s streetcar from JR Hiroshima Station to the ferry port, though that is a much longer trip.