When we first got to Hiroshima I knew I wanted to visit the torii gate in the sea, I didn’t know much about it but it is one of those iconic pictures of Japan that you always see. For a start I thought it was actually in Hiroshima and I thought that it being in the sea was something to do with the bomb, but after further research I found out that I was completely wrong and that not only was the gate itself a beautiful sight, but it was on an island that was filled with beautiful sights.
The torii gate in question is part of the Itsukushima Shinto Shrine on the island of Miyajima about half an hour from Hiroshima. The gate is meant to give the impression that it is floating and people had to steer their boats through the torii before entering the shrine.
We got our first view of the torii gate from the ferry we took to get out to Miyajima, but we didn’t fancy battling with the crowds and adding to the possibility of capsizing for a better view so we stayed on the far side of the boat and viewed it from there. When we arrived we found there were a lots of maps and information about the island including an aquarium that we didn’t realise was there (it closed at 5pm though and we wanted to make best use of the light) and that there was a deer park on the island.
We spent some time outside of the terminal trying to make a rough plan for the day. As we were discussing our potential plans for the day we discovered that the deer weren’t only in the park as one just wandered down the road in front of us being followed by her fawn.
We had been spending our time in Hiroshima with some friends from home who happened to be traveling in Japan at the same time as us and we had agreed to meet that day when we got to Miyajima however we had got there a bit earlier. We decided to slowly wander in the direction of the gate until they arrived.
On our way to the gate we saw some rather spectacular beach views, we had chosen a beautiful yet quite cold day for it, the sky was clear though so we were hopeful that the sun would bring some heat later in the day. Before arriving at the gate we passed through a stone torii gate and came to the steps that lead down to the beach.
Our first view of the gate was as the tide was going out, there was still a significant amount of water around the gat itself but you could also walk down onto the beach. We did just that and there were some stepping-stones which meant you could line up directly with the gate, so I did and get some nice shots. There was also a lovely view inland to the shrine and mountains behind.
We wandered around on the beach a little bit and saw hundreds of hermit crabs in the shallows, then we decided to perch on a bench on the wall above the beach, enjoy the scenery and people watch for a while. The deer joined us for some of this and ate the corner of our map while my husband was holding it and stroking the dear, he was quite shocked when he found out the reason for the deer’s affection.
Towards the end of this we noticed a queue of people going down the steps, but the queue didn’t end and seemed to go on for about ten minutes. We noticed they were all wearing similar clothes and carrying the same plastic bags, so we figured it must be a school trip or something and they were carrying their lunch. They were queueing up to have their picture taken in smaller groups.
Amongst all this chaos we missed our friends who had made their way down to the beach battling their way though the school children. So we made our way down to meet them and discussed our plans for the day. By this point the tide was mostly out so we decided to go right up to the gate and touch it.
When we got there we noticed that the sand was covered in one yen coins, and when we reached the gate itself we found that some had been wedged into the gate itself. I presume that this was like a wishing fountain in the west and would bring luck.
We all decided that it would be fun to come back to the gate when the tide was right out so that we could walk underneath it, this was due to happen in about an hour so we decided to have some lunch in the mean time. We found a little noodle shop that seemed to be doing some really good business and there were no westerners in sight (except us) so we decided this would be a good place for lunch.
We had an enjoyable lunch sitting at a traditional Japanese table (I think all of our legs fell asleep, but it was still fun) eating various types of ramen and drinking Hiroshima Cola which tasted like cola bottle sweets.
After lunch we headed back down to the gate and saw that the tide was fully out and the beach now extended some way beyond the gate though there was still a small stream through the middle. I had my water proof walking boots on so I was able to stand in the stream to be right in the centre of the gate. We also went beyond the gate to take some photos looking back onto the island from the other side of the gate.
Before we set off in the morning the owner of hour hostel had strongly recommended climbing mount Misen. We hadn’t been planning on this so I didn’t have my walking poles with me, but I did have walking boots. According to our map it was only about one and a half to two hours to walk, and there was information about a ropeway (cable car) so we decided to walk up and get the rope way down.
I am very glad we decided to do this as the views we got on the walk up were absolutely spectacular. Every corner we turned revealed something new and beautiful, most of the scenery looked like it had been taken right out of an ancient japanese painting it was so gorgeous. Even the modern additions of some dams still looked epic in their surroundings.
We saw some deer for some of the way up and my husband decided to collect some acorns for them, there were plenty of warnings not to feed the deer, but my husband decided that just meant not to feed them human food, and just as we were setting off we passed another shrine and saw some ladies in traditional dress, I am not sure if they worked there or were just visiting.
The mountain was steep and I must admit I really started to struggle towards the end, the heat had indeed picked up during the day, but the higher we got it started to get cold again and I got to that stage where I was too hot and tired from walking, but afraid to stop for too long in case I got a chill. The views spurred me on however, especially as while we approached the top the sun started to set, making everything even more beautiful.
We did get to a stage at the very end where we really had to hurry if we wanted to make the last rope way and that was not so fun, we didn’t have time to look at the views and were nearly running. It didn’t help that this section was down hill and my knees don’t co-operate well with down hill. It was also starting to get dark and while we had a head torch I was getting pretty tired and didn’t fancy going down the mountain in the dark, especially as we had seen multiple warning signs of vipers in the area.
We just made the last rope way and a massive thank you to our friends who bought the tickets for us so we wouldn’t have to worry about that when we caught up. The rope way itself was quite crowded and I was exhausted so I am afraid I didn’t take any pictures of the lovely views on the way down.
When we got to the bottom, we made our way back to the torii gate, we wanted to see the contrast with the tide in and also with it lit up in the dark and we were not dissapointed.
On our way back to the ferry my husband suddenly remembered the acorns he had picked up and threw some to the deer, which they ate, so he fed some directly to another deer, which seemed to enjoy them. Good omen for our trip to Nara we have planned.
We left Miyajima, tired but contented after the beautiful day that we had had.