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Miyajima Island – The Floating Torii Gate

December 7, 2011 by Chelsea Slone

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Konnichiwa!

Off the coast of Hirsoshima lies a magical little island by the name Miyajima. With the literal translation of the name being “Shrine Island” this beautiful place is home to the famous giant torii gate majestically floating in the water as well as the spritual enlightening Mount Misen. Another neat aspect of the island are the friendly deer who roam freely all around the island and even greet you right off the ferry. We had such a wonderful time here admiring the floating torii gate and walking through the beautiful forests of Mount Misen filled with the colorful leaves of the Japanese Maple trees.

Miyajima has been considered a holy place for most of Japanese history. In 806 AD, the monk Kōbō Daishi ascended Mount Misen and established the mountain as an ascetic site for the Shingon sect of Buddhism. In the past, women were not allowed on the island and those near the time of their death were shipped elsewhere to die, so that the ritual purity of the site would not be spoiled. Pretty crazy, I know!

The incredible red torii gate was an amazing site to see throughout all times of the day. While it appears to be floating on top the water during high tide but during low tide you can actually walk out and stand beneath the gate. The torii gate was built as an entrance to the also “floating” Itsukushima Shrine. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Itsukushima is a large, red-lacquered complex of halls and pathways on stilts, originally so built that commoners could visit without defiling the island with their footprints. As the Japanese are so well known for their famous list of three’s of their country, I must tell you that Miyajima’s giant red torii gate is a site listed as one of the three best views along with the infamous Mt. Fugi.

While on the island we made our way up to Mount Misen, which offered gorgeous views overlooking the island and sea. But my favorite part of this was the hike up through Momijidani Park known for it’s beautiful autumn colors. We were here during the perfect time to see the Japanese Maples trees in their beautiful fall colors. We spent hours walking around just looking at the beautiful scenery and taking pictures to try and capture the magnificence.

With this little island being so well known for their autum colors they a special little treat called Momiji manjū to celebrate it. Momiji manjū are small cakes made in the shape of a maple leaf and are traditionally filled with sweet bean paste. However you can get different fillings such as chocolate, green tea paste, cream, and even cheese. You can watch them being made at little bakeries all over the island and you can buy boxes of them all over Hirsoshima to take home, but on the Island you can enjoy them fresh which is what we did! They were pretty tasty things fresh, but when we had a package version the morning before leaving our ryokan we decided they weren’t near as good as the fresh!

They say you should stay a night on the island to really enjoy the islands peaceful atmosphere and scenery without the massive amounts of day trippers as the night falls and during the early mornings. We decided to take this advice and had our first experience a traditional Japanese style ryokan. These traditional type rooms feature tatami matted floors, large communal baths separate for men and women, and visitors are given a yukata and slippers to wear during their stay at the hotel. You mustn’t walk into your room with your shoes or slippers on, major faux pas! We walked into our little tatami matted floor with a single table in the center and two floor mats with chair backs and immediately looked at each other and said where is the bedding. Well, while your eating the traditional Japanese dinner they serve to guests in the evening they lay out your bedding of a simple mat with a cover and a pillow and move the table to the side of the room. It was quite an experience, but I must say it wasn’t too uncomfortable. We did however skip the communal bathing, as clothing is not allowed to be worn. I just can’t decide how I feel about sitting in the same bath water as a bunch of strangers. BUT we are staying in another ryokan later in the trip which is purposely reserved for two nights so I will have to give in and experience this one big bath thing before departing from Japan. Oh and just to mention a little about the the traditional Japanese meal we were served here, I am pretty sure our rice had minnows in it, but I’ll let you decide by the picture…

That’s about all I have for this facinating little island! It was such a beautiful place to spend a night and see all that there was to offer. It’s only our second stop, but I just can’t imagine enjoying this amazing country any more than I already have. With sumo wrestling and visiting Miyajima Island we have seen some really spectacular things and I just can’t wait to see what’s in store at our next stop, Kyoto!

Until Next Time,

T+C

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