The island of Itsukushima and the Itsukushima Shrine on the island are popularly known as Miyajima. I had no idea this place existed until one of my traveling companions requested to go there on one of our day trips. Staying in Kyoto, we took a shinkansen high speed train down to Hiroshima area and then a Japan Railway ferry to the island, all of this travel conveniently included in our JR Pass with no extra charge.
The ferry ride to the island is quite fun and beautiful.
The first thing we saw when we arrived on the island was a deer. And then another deer. And then another, and another, and another. At first, we were charmed by how the deer showed no fear of the humans who were sidling up to them to take close ups or selfies. We quickly took some photos and videos, thinking they would soon be spooked and scurry away. Boy were we naive.
Not only were there lots of them, they were not shy. Not only were they not shy, they were downright AGGRESSIVE. They were quite literally ripping maps out of our hands or sticking their noses into pockets or bags. As we walked, they would follow, and in some cases pawed at our backs and bags for anything edible. There were a few times I turned to talk to a friend and saw a deer head appear over their shoulder as one attacked from behind. Some were harassing people, which was especially frightening for children.
And god forbid you should actually whip out or buy something edible from one of the local vendors. I had to help a family trying to enjoy a lunch outdoors on the island by waving my map at the offending deer to lure it away. There was this nice little old obaasan (elderly lady) who had a water spray bottle who went around spraying some of the deer away from customers of the local vendors. She wasn’t really effective, but she was all smiles and seemed to be having a good time, and it was cute to see her pop out of no where here and there and spritz a deer.
Killer deer aside, there was some pretty delicious food for sale on the island. I’m not sure what everything is called, but here are the pictures and some descriptions of what everything tasted like.
These hot buns were a lot like Chinese bao zhi or what Filipinos called shio pao. Basically, it’s like a white bread with savory ingredients inside, meats and vegetables, and there were vegetarian only ones, too.
These portable stick foods were mostly a sort of mochi, or rice cake, that could be eaten with different flavorings. The green one is supposedly infused with some sort of herb.
These were meats served on a stick as well. I don’t remember what these ones were, but I think they were crab and fish paste. The obaasan with the spray bottle saved these from a deer who apparently forgot it was supposed to be a herbivore.
One of my favorite snack items is red bean soup with mochi rice cakes in it, which I found is called zenzai (just looked it up right now). You can find this all over Japan (and Los Angeles, too), so it’s not specific to Miyajima but a tasty treat nonetheless.
Probably the most delicious thing on the island was an item of specialty in this Hiroshima/Miyajima area–oysters. These oysters were cooked with butter, and they were so delectable, I was sad we didn’t get a chance to grab another serving before we left. There are many shops there that serve this, but the one we stopped by had some seating inside where we could enjoy our butter oysters in peace without the pestering deer. I got to practice the word “naka” here, which means “inside” in Japanese, as the the shop owners quickly told us to go “naka” as a herd of marauding deer started heading our way.
The shrine itself was quite beautiful, being a UNESCO world heritage site and all. It’s known most iconically for its floating torii. When the tide comes in, it looks like both the temple and the torri are floating in an ocean reflection of the sky. When the tide goes out, you can actually walk out to the torii itself.
We didn’t go into the shrine itself for time constraint reasons, because we wanted to take the cable car to the top of the Miyajima island mountain and take advantage of the small hike up there to enjoy some gorgeous scenery.
In the video above, you’ll see the breathtaking view of the ocean from the cable car ride, a taste of what’s to come at the top. At the cable car station at the top, there’s a sort of rest area from which you can launch onto a few different hikes, depending on how fit you are and what you want to see. There are some pleasant subshrines up there as well.
We went to this one part where there’s a sort of lookout meditation space. Visitors can sit for awhile up there and just enjoy the scenery of ocean, islands, and the coastline of the Hiroshima area.
Having spent all day at Miyajima, we were lucky to catch sunset in the area, which, as you can imagine, was a beautiful sight on the island and on the ferry back.
Next up, more natural beauty at Kyoto’s Arashiyama bamboo forest.