Not far from Hiroshima, in the South of Japan, is an island famous for being one of the best views of the country. Its Tori gate is what attracts crowds, whatever the tides, the wooden gate stands there, facing the ocean. Only a quick boat trip from the mainland, this little town that hasn’t moved since Edo is often full of tourists and the crowds might make it difficult to navigate but there’s an easy solution to this: book a hotel in Miyajima and get yourself a whole new experience. We were there last winter and did just that. To be honest, I wished we would have spent a little longer there, another night, just to appreciate the very special charm of Itsukushima (that is the real name of Miyajima).
The Famous Tori Gate of Miyajima and the tides.
Let’s be honest: most people make the trip to Miyajima (or Itsukushima) to see the famous floating Tori. This wooden wonder floating near the island is probably one of Japan’s most popular photos (if you don’t count Mount Fuji) but be aware that the tides might make your experience slightly different. While I do prefer the gate at low tide, most might enjoy it in the water, free of all crowds. To make sure of what you’ll get to see check the tide schedule before visiting. I believe sunset is the best time to see the gate and if you are staying overnight then you’ll see the crowds slowly disappear leaving this beautiful scenery to only a few.
Right next to the gate you will find the Unesco site of Itsukishima shrine. This one can be visited from 6.30am to 5pm, or later depending on the season. Entrance fee is 500 yen and if you are lucky you might get to see a traditional wedding or the priests performing their traditional dance.
The shrine, of course, is impressive when the tide is in which makes it look like it’s floating.
Miyajima’s real wonder: the food.
But while you might be coming for the views, what’s really amazing about Miyajima is, without a doubt, its food and drinks. Locals have developed many wonders that will leave your palate wanting more.
The local Oysters are very popular and you can buy some on the street. As you would expect from an island, they are huge and pretty fresh. Make sure to get your hand on a few of those!
Another popular speciality in the area are the Momiji Manju. Shaped in the form of a maple leaf, you might have already noticed those just before embarking on the ferry. Usually filled with red beans or custard, they are the perfect little gift to bring back home. It’s also not rare to get to see them being made in the windows of a few shops.
A variation of the Momiji Manju is the Age Momiji and our favourite by far. Take your usual Momiji Manju and… fry it. Sure it’s not very healthy but the queues might be a good indication at how good this treat is!
Unlike its unfried sister, this one is only sold by a few vendors so make sure to start queuing early if you want to get a taste! Our favourite by far: the cheese and the custard versions.
When the night comes and most of the tourist leave, a few local restaurants open and that’s when you will get to sample a few other amazing treats. On the good advice of our ryokan, we ended up in a small restaurant cooking Okonomiyaki. There’s nothing more enjoyable than sitting with a few locals and watching the owner of the shop working her magic right in front of you. Come early and you might even be able to eat on the cooking board!
If food isn’t your thing then worry not, Miyajima also produces beer. If you can’t decide on one of them, head during the day to their bar to get a tasting sample of 3 beers, otherwise you’ll easily find the beer in most of the local shops.
The other star of the show: the local deer.
Nara sure is famous for their bowing deer but Miyajima doesn’t have much reason to envy them. The island is crowded with the creatures, and they will not hesitate to try to steal your food if it is low enough for them to reach.
Roaming free on the island, they usually gather where most of the tourists walk because, well, you know, food… They also do not scare easily and you will be able to snap a picture or two during your travel. Come night and early morning, you will see them walk in the streets, a little deeper in town, don’t be afraid, the worst that can happen would be to get head-butted, though these deer rarely sport any horns.
Staying the night in Miyajima: Discover a quiet little town.
So if you can do all of the hikes, the visits and eat all that food in one day, why would you stay the night when you can simply head back to Hiroshima? Because once the night falls and the boats stop coming, Miyajima turns into a very different town. The quiet streets barely light up and only a few locals walk the street to meet up in a restaurant or shop in the nearby grocery shop.
Miyajima without the crowds is another world, it feels like you have suddenly made it into that old little Japanese town you’ve always wanted to see. Get up early and you could get to the top of the island in a few hours as well, enjoying a hike that not many have the time to do, or if all you want to do is relax you could lay on the beach, all by yourself, watching the sunrise.
Be aware that you will only find a few hotels and ryokans in Miyajima so it is worth booking in advance, since the rooms are very limited.
Practical information about Miyajima:
Where to stay in Miyajima.
$ (Under 100USD)
This ryokan is run by a lovely host who will give you as much information as he possibly can on the area. A kitchen is also available with plenty of drinks and food. You will only be asked to put the money for each goods you’ve used in a small wooden box. The bathroom is shared but the small onsen available can be locked. The rooms are traditional ryokan style. We highly recommend this guesthouse!
$$ (From 100USD to 200USD)
For a mid-range price, you get a certain luxury at this hotel. With choices of Western of Japanese rooms, you get a spacious stay that includes breakfast as well as dinner if you want. Made in a traditional fashion, those meals are beautifully presented and taste as good as they look. If you are looking for a bit of romance, look no further!
$$$ (From 200USD upwards)
Depending on how much you are willing to pay for this hotel, your experience might be very different. Indeed, this ryokan has rooms with direct views on the sea or the mountain. With a view of the ocean you get to see the giant Tori gate from the comfort of your room. While you will get a bathroom with your room this time, go and try out the public ones the hotel offers, views from the rooftop bath are worth it!
How to get there:
There is only one way to get to Miyajima and you guessed it: by boat. The cheapest option is to take the JR boat from Miyajimaguchi. It only takes 10 minutes and the boat leaves every 15 minutes. Also please note that this ferry is covered by your JR pass!
If you come from Hiroshima, catch the train to Miyajimaguchi and then walk to the pier (it barely takes 5 minutes).
You can also grab high speed and scenic ferries from Hiroshima but be prepared to pay over 1.000 yen each way for those.
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