If you already started to figure out your itinerary for Japan, you have certainly come across some information about Miyajima island and the famous Itsukushima Torii (the huge red gate that’s floating on the water). It usually takes at least 40 minutes to get to the island and, therefore, is normal for you to wonder if it is worth the visit or if you should spend the time exploring Hiroshima a little more. If this is your first trip to Japan, don’t ignore Miyajima.
Miyajima is worth at least a full-day visit. Depending on how much visitors are willing to explore or hike the area, Miyajima is also worth an overnight stay too. For those willing to see one of the top three scenic views of Japan, Miyajima is undeniably a must-visit.
Now late’s take a look at all the things that make this island so famous (for foreign tourist, but also for the Japanese), how do you get there and how much time should you plan to spend on the island.
Why is Miyajima famous?
The first thing to keep in mind is that Miyajima is the number one destination for those visiting Hiroshima and there are good reasons for that. If you offer yourself the gift of visiting the sacred island of Miyajima, I bet you will have an unforgettable experience.
Miyajima means “shrine island” in Japanese and it’s one of Japan’s top 3 scenic sites, but the island’s native name is actually Itsukushima.
Itsukushima Shrine and Torii
The Itsukushima shrine is designated as a World Heritage Site since 1996 and it’s an incredible structure built on the water. It is kind of amazing to walk through the corridors and decks of this unique shrine, so it is really worth the 300 yen entrance fee. Furthermore, from the shrine, you can take amazing pictures from the floating gate, which is right in front of the shrine.
The huge red gate (torii) is designated as Important Cultural Property and it is also built on the water. During high tide, the gate seems to be floating on the water, making it a one-of-a-kind view, but during low tide it is possible to see the torii really close because all the water disappears leaving the gate entirely visible. It’s not uncommon to see people waiting for this moment and walking towards the gate as the water steps back.
Personally, I think that the view of the floating gate on the water is much better because there’s something magical to it, but I can understand that it is also interesting to walk on the soaked ground and actually stand by an almost 17 meters gate only supported by its weight.
Miyajima island is also known for the wild deer roaming on the island. At the moment, around 500 deer are living on Miyajima and you will be seeing lots of them while walking around to explore the island.
Notice that deer are wild animals so you must behave accordingly. That means you should never disturb the animals or try to grab them. Some deer are certainly used to humans and will approach you naturally to see if you have food, but other are more shy and might run away.
By the way, if you carry food with you, be careful because some deer might try to steal it from you. Those that aren’t scared of humans might even follow you insistently and you might feel a little overwhelmed if a group of deer gathers around you.
The Miyajima’s deer don’t seem to be just like those in Nara (near Kyoto and Osaka) and there aren’t as many as in Nara either. If you’re curious about Nara’s deer, check my post about Nara.
Omotesando Shopping Street
Omotesando is a shopping street with 350 meters long that has around 70 shops. It has a mix of souvenirs shops with lots of small restaurants on both sides of the street where you can try the local specialties. This is a lovely street where you can find lots of wooden craft, a common souvenir of Miyajima.
If you were to visit only one street in Miyajima, this would be the one, and you are probably going to explore this street, specially to taste the delicious foods you can find there.
There’re lots of things you can try at Miyajima, but there are at least two you shouldn’t miss: grilled oysters and maple leaf shaped cakes.
Grilled oysters is a food you’ll see a lot in Miyajima because it is one of their specialties. The region is known to have some of the best oysters of Japan so this grilled oysters might be worth the try. You can even see the Japanese grill the oysters in front of you in the small corner shops.
For those that are not into oysters, you can taste an absolutely delicious cake known as Momiji Manju. This has the shape of a maple leaf and it is usually filled with a sort of beans paste added with other flavors. It is the most popular sweet in Miyajima and you will find it everywhere.
Besides this two famous specialties, you can also try a dish called Anago-meshi, which is a sort of broiled conger eel on top of a bowl of rice, or the famous Okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake with a special look, but that is unquestionably delicious. It is said that the best Okonomiyaki are from the Hiroshima region, so make sure you try those from Miyajima island.
The Momiji Bridge is located in Momijidani Park and its one of the scenic landmarks of Miyajima. This incredible wooden bridge is painted in red and surrounded by nature everywhere, making it an excellent place for sightseeing. If you visit during spring or summer, you will see the contrast between the red bridge and the green trees all around, but during autumn, the bridge beautifully camouflages itself with the orange and red-color leaves.
The Daisho-in temple is the oldest temple in Miyajima and it is worth the visit. It has several amazing buildings and gates to admire and a particularly cool one that is called Hensho cave, a room where the ceiling is filled with lanterns that are quite a sight.
At the base of the temple, there’s also a huge trail of statues (around 500 of them) that is quite impressive. The temple grounds are vast so make sure you allow some time to explore the area.
Mount Misen is a sacred mountain that rises 535 meters above the sea level and it is known to have the best views. Here you’ll find kiezu-no-hi, the eternal flame that still burns since 806 when the founder of Daishoin temple, Kobo Daishi, used it for its religious training. This flame was also used to the flame of peace in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.
There are three hiking paths to get to the top of Mount Misen, that take between 1,5 hours and 2,5 hours, with lots of things to see and explore on the way. If you’re going to spend some extra time on the island, this might be a good experience, but be careful with Japanese venomous pit viper and hornets.
If you don’t feel like hiking the mountain, the easiest and fastest way is to take the cable car from Momijidani station which takes around 10 minutes. There are free shuttle buses that take you to Momijidani station if you don’t feel like walking.
Now that you have an idea of the best places to see in Miyajima, you can take a took at this useful map of the area from the Miyajima Tourist Association website.
How do you get to Miyajima?
Getting to Miyajima could be easier and there aren’t lots of transfers, so you shouldn’t have any problems finding your way.
You just have to take the JR Sanyo Line from Hiroshima Station to Miyajima-guchi, which takes around 25 – 30 minutes, then you walk for less than 5 minutes to the ferry port. The ferry ride takes around 10 minutes to arrive at Miyajima.
Pretty simple, right? A little heads up on the ferry though. There are two companies (JR and Matsudai) that provide the ferry service and there’s almost no difference between both, but if you have bought a Japan Rail Pass, then you should pick the JR ferry because the ride it’s included in the pass. Otherwise, if you pick the Matsudai ferry, you will have to pay around 180 yen each way. It’s not expensive, but if you have the pass that can avoid that extra cost and save it for a souvenir it is better, right? Also, the JR ferries between 9 am and 16 pm don’t use the regular route straight to ferry terminal, but instead they pass much closer to the floating gate.
If you don’t know what a Japan Rail Pass is and when and how to buy it, here are a few posts I wrote on the subject that will help you:
- How late can I buy the Japan Rail Pass?
- Japan Rail Pass: Is the JR Pass worth it?
- How far in advance should I buy the Japan Rail Pass?
How long do you need in Miyajima?
Miyajima is easily a full-day trip as we saw before. This is a small island, but there’re are many things to see and do, so you won’t regret spending your time here as it will be probably one of the best days of your trip to Japan.
If you’re short on time, you can probably get away with just a half-day trip, just to check the shrine and gate, go to Mount Misen using the cable car (not hiking) and stroll around Omotesando street to do some shopping and grab something to eat before you leave. It will be a shame not to enjoy all that the island has to offer, but at least you’ll get a glimpse of this small paradise and you can go back in a future trip to Japan.
Yet, if you really want to have a complete experience, plan on staying all day and maybe even staying overnight. An overnight stay at Miyajima is a unique event and the perfect time to see the difference between the lovely Miyajima during the day and the magical Miyajima during the night. Furthermore, most of the tourists doesn’t stay at Miyajima for now, so you will be able to see the lively island become quiet and mystical.
It is quite amazing to visit the island during the day, but there will be lots of tourists because Miyajima is really famous. If you stay the night, you won’t have the island for yourself, but you will see a huge difference in the amount of people. Plus, you will get the chance to see the shrine and the lanterns around illuminated, as well as the floating gate. As a general rule, the shrine is illuminated 30 minutes after sunset and until 11 pm.
Is it better to stay in Hiroshima or Miyajima?
This decision really depends on what you want to do, but I would choose to stay at Miyajima, specially because the day visitors will be gone and the island will retrieve its peaceful atmosphere.
Hiroshima is a big city, like many others in Japan, so you probably won’t find anything special besides what you already saw in cities like Tokyo or Osaka. On the other hand, Miyajima is a small island, which gets pretty calm when all the day visitors are gone. Besides that, most people say that if they were to do the trip again they would stay in Miyajima rather than Hiroshima and I couldn’t agree more.
If you’re a night owl and you’re looking to experience nightlife then you probably should stay at Hiroshima because you will find lots of places to go at night. Staying at Miyajima is more for people that want to experience the zen atmosphere and maybe get up early to get some cool pictures of the sunrise.
Either way, both places are amazing, but I have a special preference for Miyajima for sure.