The Island of Deer, Mountains and Shrines

After a speedy 7-Eleven-style breakfast, we gathered our things and caught the train to Miyajimaguchi. Upon arrival, we motored over to the ferry terminal, arriving just in time to catch the next JR ferry across to Miyajima. We spent the brief journey – which lasted no longer than ten minutes – on deck, snapping away at Miyajima’s photogenic coastline.

Although officially named Itsukushima, this small, mountainous island is commonly referred to as Miyajima, meaning “Shrine Island”. It’s not difficult to see how the island acquired this nickname, as there are shrines almost everywhere you look. Taking into account purely the minute section of the island that we explored, there were shrines of all shapes and sizes – from Itsukushima Shrine and its renowned “floating” torii gate to the small shrines which adorned the slopes of Mt. Misen.

Upon disembarking the ship, we promptly located the lockers and squeezed (that being the operative word) our rucksacks into the last ¥500 locker. Free of our luggage, we set off along the waterfront to see the O-Torii gate. We spotted a few of the island’s sacred deer en route; feeding these deer was explicitly forbidden, so we both felt very glad we’d made the trip to Nara two days prior.

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Having taken a few shots of the O-Torii from the waterfront, we decided to walk out to the shrine since it was approaching low tide. Time for a confession: I detest wet sand. Or, more specifically, getting my feet wet and then getting sand on them and having to put sandy feet back in my shoes. Eugh. I digress – back to the O-Torii. With the tide receding, swimmers were splashing around in the water and others were paddling in the shallows surrounding the shrine.

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After wandering underneath the shrine (and trying not to drop our shoes in the slightly murky water) we headed over to Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The shrine was built on pier-like foundations and therefore, like the O-Torii, appears to be floating at high tide. Itsukushima Shrine was a rather modest shrine in comparison to others we’d seen, but the wooden platforms made for a novel experience (photo included further down, at high tide). We even spotted dozens of little crabs in the sand – and a couple taking a photo of their dog in a pram, I kid you not.

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Our stomachs soon made it clear that lunch had to come next on the agenda, but an ATM search postponed this momentarily. It turned out there wasn’t a 7-Eleven on the island – which anyone with a foreign-issued card holidaying in Japan will know is acutely concerning – but luckily we located a post office which took foreign cards. Disaster averted, I munched away on a yakitori (skewered chicken) whilst Laurence slurped up some noodles.

We then topped up our water supplies before setting off on the Daishoin Route up Mt. Misen. Though it’s possible to detour via Daishō-in Temple, we opted not to – and if you’d seen the number of steps leading up to it, I wager you would’ve too! Gathered round the entrance, we noticed a number of little sculptures adorned with crocheted hats (if anyone knows the actual name for these stone sculptures, let me know!)

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After a baffling encounter with an Asian guy who wanted a selfie with me (what could possibly be attractive/ interesting/ cool about a sweaty white girl?), we continued on our way.

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The trail was lined with numerous warnings about Japanese vipers (mamushi); these snakes are poisonous and to be avoided at all costs, though luckily we didn’t come across any. We did, however, see plenty of small lizards with electric blue tails, deer and – to Laurence’s utmost delight – a stick insect.

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We encountered a fair few people – a number of whom were European – on the trail and stopped for a chat with some of them. Nearing the summit, the path merged with others and people who’d taken the ropeway (cable car for Brits) joined those of us who’d hiked all the way up in the blistering heat. Up at Mt. Misen Observatory – a mere 535m above sea level – we could see as far as Hiroshima. Unfortunately, it was quite a hazy day, but this didn’t stop us from spending time at the summit taking pictures, drinking water and munching mini coconut biscuits before descending via the Momiji Dani Route.

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This route was – at times – rather hazardous, as although there weren’t so many steep steps, the ground was rather slippery and we lost our footing on several occasions. The trail took us through Momiji Dani Park before emerging on the outskirts of town.

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We enjoyed a shaved ice in air conditioned bliss (again going a wee bit syrup-happy on the flavourings side of things) before wandering through the streets lined with shops and sampling momiji manju (a maple leaf shaped sponge filled with chocolate, custard, matcha or sweet red bean paste).

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We then returned to the ferry terminal to pick up our rucksacks, before heading over to Miyajima Morinoyado Inn; even with our map we had a little difficulty locating our lodgings, as the building didn’t appear to bear a sign. Once we’d checked in, we freshened up and had a light snack before heading out to see the O-Torii at sunset. By this point, the O-Torii and Itsukushima Shrine appeared to be floating on the water.

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We stayed a while, so as to see the O-Torii illuminated, before heading back to our ryokan for tea.

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Tea, as it turned out, was ten bite-sized plates of regional and national cuisine, plus dessert – and as such, merits its own paragraph. Identifying everything we were eating was a challenge at times, but this is what we consumed: sashimi (red and white tuna); ham with cubes of jelly; sweetcorn in various textures; Japanese radish in shrimp sauce; clams with spring onions and butter; octopus with seaweed (I couldn’t bear the thought of eating this, so I let the team down and let Laurence eat it for me); tempura (fish, chilli, aubergine and pumpkin); Japanese pickles; miso soup; rice with sweet shrimp (a side); and, for dessert, lemon sorbet. After washing it down with plum wine and Japanese tea, we went to bed feeling absolutely stuffed!

Tips:

  • Both regional and national JR passes are valid on the ferry from Miyajimaguchi over to Miyajima; if you’re travelling at a busy time, this also saves joining a lengthy queue for tickets.
  • Stick to the path at all times when climbing Mt. Misen – Japanese vipers (mamushi) lurk in the fallen leaves and you don’t want to fall victim to one. If bitten, call 119 immediately and await help.
  • For a budget ryokan experience, we opted for Miyajima Morinoyado Inn. It set us back further than a hostel (approx. £180, due to travelling during Obon), but we wanted to try out a ryokan and this was one we could afford. Our Japanese-style room was simply furnished but super spacious and we were given copious amounts of delicious food at both dinner and breakfast, so overall it was a pretty good deal. If you’re not Japanese, you’ll need to book through Japanican.com.
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7 thoughts on “The Island of Deer, Mountains and Shrines

  1. It sounds like an amazing adventure! I would have been terrified of the mamushi the whole time. I don’t know if you’ve seen the new Fantastic Beasts movie, but the stick insect reminds me a lot of the little bowtruckle in the film. I like your photos of the O-Torii gate!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think if there hadn’t been so many people on the trail we would have been too, but it felt safe enough. I finally got round to seeing it when I was back in the UK over Christmas – really enjoyed reliving the Harry Potter magic. I wonder if JK herself was inspired by stick insects! The O-Torii was a stunning sight, and another of those places that never looks quite the same in a photo.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That last shot of the O-Torii looks fantastic! The place looks gorgeous, and its diversity of flora and fauna is really impressive. Don’t worry about the Asian tourists: they are friendly and just naturally curious about foreigners, especially white visitors since they don’t really come across them often, I would imagine. Trust me, I get stares in France for being Asian, so as long as it’s not hostile, then it’s fine. Even though you’ve mentioned that you aren’t an adventurous eater, I’d say that octopus with seaweed is not that bad- the texture is chewy, but paired with good sauces and flavors, it’s delicious!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was a magical place – nicer in the evening when the hordes of day-trippers had largely headed back to the mainland. I imagined that was the case, it was the first time I’ve experienced it and it just seemed rather random! I have a friend who lives out in HK and when he first went to Beijing he said everyone wanted pictures with him. I’m sure it’s very tasty, I just can’t bear the thought of eating octopus tentacles! I was happy that I tried the clams though, as normally I give seafood a miss.

      Liked by 1 person

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