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Monday, March 18, 2019

Exploring Japan Vol. 20 - Miyajima

This week we'll wrap up the part of our trip that took us south of Tokyo.  When I lived in Iwakuni, there were two places easily accessible by train.  The best was Hiroshima, with its modern ginza and professional baseball team.  The other was no slouch though.  It was the island of Itsukushima and the small town of Miyajima.

Funny enough, Miyajima technically doesn't exist anymore.  It was annexed by the city of Hatsukaichi in 2005, however people still refer to it by the old name.  It sits 20 minutes outside of Hiroshima by train, however that only gets you to the ferry station.  A ten minute ferry ride puts you at the dock and immediately you're beset by roving deer.

At first, you'll think they're fantastic but if you sit back and watch them awhile, you'll see their mercenary tactics at work.  They travel in packs of two or three and while one distracts people by acting cute, the others start eating anything they can get hold of. In this case, even Karen's shirt.

One of my favorite things about this trip was watching a woman get ambushed from behind by a deer who walked away with most of an ice cream cone.  She had her attention on the one in front of her and before she knew it, the one in back of her had bitten the top off her cone.

The town of Miyajima is known for a few things beside aggressive deer.  First, and most impressive, is their giant torii.  

It sits in the water at high tide, but when the water moves out, you can walk right down to the base.  In fact, you'll find locals digging for clams, crabs and other fresh seafood.  

It's a truly amazing structure and once you get close to it, the sheer size of the trees the builders used will floor you.  


The second awesome sight is the floating Buddhist temple.  It doesn't really float, however when the tide is in, it sits directly over the water.  

The third thing they're known for is not a sight at all.  It's a taste.  Miyajima is the place to get the best bean cakes in all of Japan (in my humble opinion).  These are fresh sponge cakes that are filled with sweet red bean paste. 

If you don't like red bean paste, don't worry.  There are at least ten different flavors that range from chocolate and vanilla to banana and berry flavors.  There are multiple stores along the route that all make these fresh and many have their own proprietary flavors so be sure to shop around.  They are well worth your yen.  You can even pick up special Kit Kat flavors that are specific to Miyajima.

If you follow the main path through town, you'll find yourself walking in a beautiful wooded area.  It will take you over bridges and by Shinto shrines that are nestled back among the trees.  

It makes for a gorgeous hike but if you're not in the mood, you can catch a bus up to the cable car at the end of the path. 

For a small fee, you can take that up to a point on Mt. Misen where you'll get fabulous views of the inland sea and the small islands that dot it.  

It's from this point you can also find the trail up to the temple that houses the eternal flame I wrote about in the second post of this series.  If you're really ambitious, you can continue on from there and hike all the way to the top of the mountain.  

The only thing you need to be aware of is that the ferry does stop running relatively early, so if you're not off the mountain on time, you'll be finding a place to stay on the island.

Karen and Lil had a mixed response to visiting Miyajima.  While they liked the town and the deer, they didn't like hiking in the heat and humidity.  The selfie above was taken to show me just how much they hated trying to get to the eternal fire temple.  They turned back about a quarter mile from the temple itself and snapped this about ten minutes after they left me.  They snapped another that included a hand gesture but I'm trying to keep this blog semi-PC.  

Still, I can't help but recommend visiting the island AND making the hike.  It's one of my favorite places in all of Japan and ranks a solid number two in my top three most beautiful and peaceful places to visit. Number one would be the mountain trail I wrote about in the Iwakuni post and number three would be Meiji Shrine in Tokyo.

Next week, we'll finally talk about sumo, because I feel obligated and a few people have asked about it.  

See you then!

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