Miyajima Island: Our Complete Travel Guide
Miyajima is a picture-perfect island off the coast of Hiroshima. It is the best day trip to take if you want to escape that bustling city. Miyajima is really easy to get to and has so much to offer in terms of culture and local traditions. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, Miyajima is one of the most popular tourist’s destinations in Japan. Some even call it the “Island of God”! It is also considered one of the three best views of Japan, and it’s easy to see why. The contrast between the surrounding deep blue sea, the green forest of Mount Misen and the vermilion lacquer of Miyajima’s shrines is just magical.
How long to stay on the island?
Miyajima is a great day trip from Hiroshima and it’s possible to take in most of its attractions in a single day. But if you have more time, I would strongly suggest staying at least overnight, to truly soak up the atmosphere. We spent two nights there, arriving on a late afternoon ferry ride. Most of the day-trippers depart the island around six o’clock, leaving it almost deserted. You will get to enjoy the sunset and see the island’s landmarks illuminated at night. It’s great for nighttime photography.
How to get to Miyajima?
If like us you already have a valid JR pass then you should hop on the Sanyo Line from Hiroshima Station and get off at Miyajimaguchi Station. The train ride is normally ￥410 one way, but it is covered by your JR pass. The journey takes about half an hour and is very easy going.
From Miyajimaguchi station, cross the road to the JR Ferry Terminal and hop on one of their ferries. There are two ferry companies, JR and Matsudai, so make sure you take the right one! Ferries to Miyajima leave every fifteen minutes and the crossing takes only ten minutes. The ride costs ￥180, but if you have a JR pass the cost is included.
If you don’t have a JR pass, you can instead catch the no. 2 tram to the ferry terminal, from either Hiroshima Station or the A-Bomb Dome station. The tram is cheaper (￥260 one way) but it takes twice as long.
If money is no concern take a direct boat from Hiroshima Peace Park. This will get you to Miyajima in fifty-five minutes for￥3600 return.
What to see and do in Miyajima?
Itsukushima Shrine and the floating Torii
The first thing you’ll see as you approach Miyajima is the beautiful vermillion torii gate standing tall in the water at the entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine. This Torii gate is the main attraction on Miyajima. It’s also one of the most photographed Torii gates in Japan. At high tide, the Torii and its shrine appear to be floating on the water. At low tide you’ll see many people walking out to the base of the Torii, wandering around beneath it and taking the obligatory selfie beside it! If you stay overnight in Miyajima, you will get to enjoy both tides.
Once you finish taking pictures of the Torii, visit the Itsukushima Shrine itself. The entire shrine is built out over the bay on a pier-like structure. It was built this way to protect the island. The island was a holy place and commoners were not allowed to step foot on it. The only way they could enter the shrine was by boat, arriving through the Torii gate. Within are several halls and shrines connected by lantern-lit corridors. It looks especially nice at night when those lanterns are lit.
Entrance fee: ￥300 per adult.
Meet the locals!
As in Nara, Miyajima is home to white tail deer. They are everywhere, welcoming you at the ferry terminal, roaming the main street, and photo bombing your torii shots! In fact, you’ll find them wherever the tourists are. They are a real attraction themselves!
Although they are very, very cute, these deer can be awfully sneaky and their favourite snacks are tourist maps. Yes, maps; I never knew that paper could be so tasty! So keep your pocket secure from these furry little pickpockets! They also like to snatch any snacks you might have!
Walking through the streets at night we would spot many deer taking a long nap after an exhausting day spent chasing tourists. As animal lovers, they were our favourite part of the island.
The Daisho-in temple is located at the base of Mt Misen. The temple is very peaceful and it has a magical feel to it. Because it’s up the hill (just a ten-minute walk), it has great views out over the bay and the surrounding area, especially during cherry blossom season and during autumn.
This temple is big on statues. It has hundreds of them scattered all over its grounds. Some are very large, such as the two Nio guardians at the Niomon Gate, the main entrance to the temple. Some are much smaller, such as the cute Kawaii monk statues found in every corner of the temple.
One of the highlights of the temple are the five hundred Rakan statues with their colourful knitted hats. You’ll see them on your left as you climb the stairs up from the main gate; you can’t miss them. These statues represent the disciples of the Shaka Nyorai (the Japanese name for Siddhartha, the historical Buddha). If you look closely you will see that every statue has a unique facial expression. It’s pretty incredible.
Another highlight is the dimly lit Henjokutsu Cave. It houses eighty-eight icons representing the eighty-eight temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage route. Worshippers who come here believe that they will receive the same blessings as those who make the full pilgrimage. That seems like a pretty sneaky shortcut to us!
This temple is one of a kind. I say that because Simon is not a fan of temples. To him, temples are often “all the same”. Like me, I’m sure many of you will disagree with him, but it did make our visit to Japan a bit tricky in that regard. There are so many temples to see that he quickly began to suffer from temple fatigue! But although I may have struggled getting him inside this temple, I struggled even harder getting him out! He loved it and spent ages photographing the cute and funny little Kauai monk statues scattered all around the temple. So even if temples aren’t really your thing, give this one a try. It was Simon’s highlight of Miyajima, if not Japan!
Entrance fee: Free, donations only
Omotosando Shopping Street
This is the main street of Miyajima and it is packed with small speciality and souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants, and sweet stores. It’s the perfect place for souvenir shopping, grabbing lunch, or if you fancy a snack. It is packed with tourists during the day, but at night you will barely find a soul, maybe just a deer or two!
Goju-no-to the Five-Storied Pagoda
This five-story, vermilion red pagoda was built in 1407 and restored in 1533. In 1945 it was restored once more to its original style, and coated with a glossy red lacquer. This 27.6-meter pagoda is dedicated to the Medicine Buddha, and to the Buddhist saints Fugen and Monju. It’s a splendid structure combining the beauty of both Japanese and Chinese architectural styles. You can only enjoy it from the outside as the pagoda is not open to the public.
However, you may enter the Senjokaku Shrine (the Hall of 1000 tatami mats) next door. This huge pavilion is dedicated to the shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi and has an interesting history. The hall was built using huge beams and pillars. Ancient artefacts and paintings hang from the ceiling and it feels like you are walking through an ancient art gallery. From the shrine, you also get a great view out over the five-story pagoda and Miyajima.
The Miyajima Ropeway
Take the Miyajima Ropeway for some spectacular views over the island and the surrounding sea. The journey up is split into two stages, with two different types of ropeway. The first stage is a smaller ropeway that takes you most of the way up. The second stage is a larger funicular style ropeway that runs from the mountainside up to the final stop, Shishiiwa Station which is 430 metres above sea level.
Next to the Shishiiwa Station is the Shishiiwa Observatory, a great place to view the magnificent Seto Inland Sea, and its many islands.
Cost : ￥1,800 return or ￥1,000 one way.
From the Shishiiwa Station, you should continue on and take the short half hour hike to the summit of Mt Misen. The hike itself is very pleasant. You pass through a beautiful forest, past some ancient temples and around some giant boulders. But the real reward is found at the summit of Mt Misen. At 535m above sea level, Mt Misen has 360-degree views over the island, making the hike to the summit well worth it. If you are motivated and have more time you can hike all the way up without taking the ropeway. We took the ropeway on the way up and then walked back down. We thought that was the much better option!
Where to stay on the island?
There is a large range of accommodation options on the island. But since Miyajima is rich in culture and tradition, it’s a great place to stay in a Ryokan (a traditional Japanese guest-house) if you would like to experience one. All of them are relatively pricey but you can find some that are a little more affordable. Just make sure to book a while in advance; the best ones fill up very quickly. We booked six months in advance and struggled to find one that was both traditional and affordable.
We stayed at Hotel Sakuraya Miyajimakan. It’s not your traditional Ryokan but rather a hotel offering Japanese style rooms with mountain or sea views. It doesn’t serve the traditional Japanese dinners that you will find in a real Ryokan. But we truly enjoyed our traditional room, complete with tatami mats, kimonos, slippers, futon beds and a Japanese style table and chairs.
Use the search box below to find your accommodation on Miyajima:
What to eat?
Miyajima has three specialities, Oysters, Anago Meshi and Momiji Manjyu.
Oysters are farmed all around Miyajima and Hiroshima and they are very fresh. You’ll find that every restaurant on the island has oysters on their menu. They are served in a variety of ways, freshly suckled, grilled or added to your dish. If you are a big fan of oysters, you may want to visit in February to experience the island’s annual oyster festival!
The Anago Meshi is a local dish of Conger eel grilled in soy sauce, served on a bed of rice.
The final speciality, the Momiji Manjyu, is a Japanese sweet first created over one hundred years ago. It’s a small cake in the shape of a maple leaf, that is traditionally filled with red Azuki bean paste. Now they are made in many flavours, such as chocolate, matcha, custard, and even cheese!
Miyajima turned out to be a great side trip from Hiroshima. It has an interesting culture, lots of cute deer, fascinating historical sites and stunning scenery to enjoy, both during the day and at night.
I’m so glad we took the time to really make the most of what it has to offer. Sometimes it’s fun to sit back, relax and just soak up the atmosphere of the places you visit. Miyajima is a great place to do that.