Planning your visit to the sacred island of Miyajima, Japan

If you’re visiting the Kansai region of Japan, chances are you’re including at least one of Kobe, Nara, Hiroshima, and Miyajima in your itinerary. All of these can be easily accessed because Japan’s vast transit network is ridiculously efficient (much like everything else in Japan)! Why not escape from the hustle and bustle of city life with a Miyajima day trip?

Itsukushima, more commonly known as Miyajima, is said to be an island where gods lived. Considered one of the most scenic spots in Japan, Miyajima is not only romantic but also family-friendly. AS and I brought Mama Ko along on this journey and we had a fantastic famjam time. We connected on a whole ‘nother level as we stepped back in time on this sacred island; the whole place radiates tranquility! I assure you you’ll suffer from a serious case of FOMO if you don’t make this Miyajima day trip a priority.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima Ryokan

Getting to Miyajima

Tip: Because we only visited Kyoto, Osaka, and Miyajima on this trip, the JR-West Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass was enough. Find out which JR Pass best suits your needs depending on where else you’ll be visiting in Japan.

From KIX – Kansai International Airport

Take the JR Haruka Limited Express train from KIX to Shin-Osaka station (50min).

From Osaka

From Shin-Osaka station, take the Sanyo Shinkansen to Hiroshima station. This 90-minute journey will fly by because the Shinkansen is so darn fast and comfortable.

From Kyoto

If you’re making the Miyajima day trip from Kyoto, keep in mind that it’s close to 3 hours, one way. From Kyoto station, take the direct Hikari train to Hiroshima station.

Read more: How to see Kyoto in 2 days

FROM Hiroshima

Take the JR Sanyo Line, in the Iwakuni direction, to Miyajima-guchi station (30min). Follow the signs to the ferry and hop on for a 10 minute ride over to the island.

Tip: While it’s not okay to eat on most trains in Japan, you can on the Shinkansen. Shin-Osaka station has tons of mouthwatering food stalls; grab a bento (and a giant Pablo cheesecake) and enjoy on the ride.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

What to do and see on your Miyajima day trip

O-torii (The Great Gate) and Itsukushima Shrine

This giant vermilion gate, or torii, is the icon of Miyajima. The one we see today has withstood many typhoons and earthquakes since 1875, and is the eighth generation since the first was erected in 1547. Depending on the tide, you’ll either be able to walk to the pillars of the o-torii or see it floating in the sea from afar.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

A stone’s throw away from the o-torii is the Itsukushimajinja.  Numerous buildings and possessions from this Shinto shrine complex have been designated as National Treasures by the Japanese government. At high tide, this UNESCO World Heritage Site appears to be floating on water. The current structure was built in 1571; however, the shrine dates back to 593. Due to fires and typhoons, many restorations and constructions have taken place since the first buildings were constructed.

Tip: You can’t enter the shrine after sunset but both the o-torii and Itsukushima-jinja are illuminated every night until 11pm. The two vermilion structures paint the perfect backdrop, so put on your yukata and go for an evening stroll.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Goju-no-to (Five-storied Pagoda) and Senjokaku (Hall of 1000 Tatami Mats)

Constructed more than 500 years ago, these are both at the entrance of the Itsukushima Shrine. At nearly 28 meters high, this pagoda once enshrined the Buddha of Medicine. Visitors can’t enter the pavilion but this fusion of Japanese and Chinese architectural styles is stunning from any angle, any time of day.

Senjokaku originally served as a Buddhist library to hold sutra chants. The interior is decorated with countless ema, or Japanese wooden tablets with votive images. It’s the largest structure in Miyajima but it was actually never completed.

Mount Misen Ropeway

Indulge in aerial views of the Seto Inland Sea and Miyajima’s ancient forests as you glide through the sky in a ropeway gondola. You’ll have to hike another 1km or so to get to the summit, Mount Misen Observatory, where you can enjoy a sweeping panoramic view of the surrounding islands and sea.  Alternatively, Shishiiwa Observatory (right next to the ropeway station) also offers a great view.

Daisho-inn

Located at the foot of Mount Misen is one of the most significant temples of Shingon Buddhism. There are no crowds here, which makes the already spiritual experience even more spellbinding. You don’t have to understand much of the religious aspects to appreciate Daisho-in. Maybe it’s the serenity and stillness of the forest or maybe it’s the cute jizo statues watching over us, but we’ve never felt more at peace.

Tip: You’ll see a row of spinning wheels with sutra inscriptions on the steps. Turn them as you walk up; it is said that you can benefit from the blessings!

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs)

A small, white and fluffy mammal strolled by as we were walking back to our ryokan late at night. We’ve never seen anything like it so we kept our distance until it sniffed and wiggled its way back into the forest. It wasn’t until we asked our host that we realized we had encountered a tanuki, or Japanese raccoon dogs. They’re usually dark brown in colour, but we were lucky seeing an extremely rare white tanuki! How rare? Think 1st Edition Charizard Pokemon Card.

Native to Japan, tanuki look like a cross between a big Pomeranian and tiny baby polar bear. Adorable, right? Wait ’til you hear about their gigantic ballsacks! In legends and folklore, tanuki are masters of shape-shifting and have huge scrotums symbolizing prosperity. If you’re a Studio Ghibli fan, you probably remember the movie Pom Poko where tanuki use their enormous scrotums to protect their community. Don’t worry, their balls are quite proportional in real life.

Sika deer

Hundreds of wild deer roam freely on the streets of Miyajima. Thought to be messengers of the Shinto gods, they’re considered sacred and killing one was once punishable by death. Ironically, many of them now suffer from malnutrition and starvation. In 2008 city officials prohibited the feeding of these deer as a form of population control. I’m not sure if the ban was lifted but we did see this dude feeding them crackers.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

What to eat on your Miyajima day trip

Miyajima is famous for its fresh oysters and conger eels caught from the Seto Inland Sea (different from the eel in unagi-don). You’ll find the best anago-meshi (grilled conger eel on rice) at Ueno, which is a restaurant in betwen the Miyajimaguchi JR Station and ferry terminal. Want oysters? Head to Kakiya for fresh-to-death bihalves, prepared any way you like, over a glass of wine.

Don’t leave the island without trying some momiji-manjuThese are freshly baked maple-leaf shaped castella with a sweet filling. You can choose from matcha, custard, chestnut, or red bean paste. They’re the perfect souvenior as they’re tasty and packaged in beautiful boxes.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima Ryokan

If you’re staying at a ryokan you’ll also get to feast on Kaiseki-ryori (traditional multi-course Japanese meal). This is one of the reasons why you should stay overnight!

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima Ryokan

Staying overnight in Miyajima

I know, I know. This is a post on a Miyajima day trip but I urge you to spend at least 1 night in a ryokan! Not only will you truly experience Japanese hospitality, but you’ll also have the opportunity to explore the island in the quiet mornings and evenings, without the daytrip crowds. We highly recommend Watanabe-inn!

READ MORE: Our first ryokan experience in Japan

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Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

 

 

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34 thoughts on “Planning your visit to the sacred island of Miyajima, Japan

  1. It looks so peaceful and pretty there!!! The Sika deer are super cute. I also love the beauty, peace, and artistry of the five stiry pagoda and the great gate. Just stunning pictures that feel like a window into the soul of Japan. Thanks!

  2. We have a friend who have always invited us to visit Miyajima and now thank to your post we know why. With your photos you inspired us to try you same experience especially the tour around the Daisho-inn!!

  3. I lived in Japan for a year and didn’t make it to this area. It is really beautiful and the five story pagoda looks amazing.

  4. The more I see about Japan, the more I want to go! The torii and the pagoda are beautiful, I would love to see those in person. The sika deer are so cute and your story about the tanuki is hilarious! I’ll have to tell my kids, they are super into Pokémon.

  5. I love how Torri has both low and high tides, and how tides change its landscapes, I would love to walk around the pillars during the low tides exploring the ocean floor and its surroundings, but to see it floats on the sea must be an unique experience too. The sika deer looks docile and cute also, but it is very unfortunate that they are suffering malnutrition and hunger. Hopefully their situation will get better in the future.

    • I wish they implemented a better way of controlling the population rather than just leaving them out to starve and eat garbage 🙁

  6. This was one of my favourite places to visit in Japan, it is such a beautiful island and from when you get near on the ferry you are in love with its beauty. It was also a rainy day when I visited but it didn’t spoil it. I also went to the very top of the mountain, by cable car and then a hike and the views are amazing. Its a truly magical place to visit.

  7. Japan is one of this exotic places that everyone would love to visit- myself including. I love the beautiful photos, you have managed to capture the essence of your trip in such a lovely way. Thanks for sharing!

  8. I am heading to Japan in October and Miyajima is on my list! Thank you for sharing it makes me more excited to be going now!

  9. The Itsukushima–jinja UNESCO world heritage site justifies a visit to Miyajima alone! It seems its very easy to get here with the super efficient train network, I wish the trains in England were this efficient! I love the picture of the deers, they seem to be tame.

  10. There’s nothing in Japan I want more than the food! Seems like you’ve tried some very interesting dishes I’d consider gobbling up! I can also imagine this place will be sooo much prettier in Autumn! What do you think? 🙂

  11. The night shot of the gate in high tide looks just gorgeous. And being a fan on UNESCO Sites, I would love it visit here! The Daisho Inn looks splendid. Being a veggie, I might find it a bit difficult with food I guess!

    • If you stay at a ryokan you can request for a vegetarian menu! Japanese hosts are usually very accommodating 🙂 It’s all about customer service!

  12. I hadn’t heard of Miyajima before but it looks so beautiful. The umbrellas in your photos are stunning, such a great touch. Definitely keeping this ost in mind for my next trip to Japan, thanks for sharing!

  13. There’s something about Japanese villages that I find so interesting and serene. It’s always well-organized too (or at least that’s what I see in the photos). The o-torri looks magnificent but I think I’d prefer to see it during high tide when it looks like it’s floating on water. The tanuki looks cute but I think I’d also be a bit afraid of it, it looks so much like a raccoon (I googled it). :p

  14. Japanese architecture is totally unique and outstanding. The gate, shrine complex, pagoda and temple are interesting sights to behold. The group of wild deer freely roaming and the mouth-watering foods available certainly make up for a great Miyajima experience. Ok, ok, I won’t do a day trip but spend a night or two if I have the chance to visit this gem.

  15. It looks like it’s such a calm and inspiring place to go! I have never been to Japan before but I would love to go there. I really like the buildings and I think the culture is pretty fascinating. Cool you ran into a tanuki as well!

  16. I had no idea it is 3 whole hours away from Kyoto! That’s such a bummer because we are headed to Kyoto later this month and I was looking into the possibility of doing a day trip to Miyajima. I’ll definitely have to bookmarkt his for a future trip!

  17. I have been touring around the blogosphere and it’s so great to get back to your writing Ko. Actually, the whole article functioned masterfully. Your pictures complimented the stories. You put yourself (and your mom) in as first person observers and you had a consistent and usable amount of information. I really, really enjoyed this piece. I think I also would love to visit Miyajima on many levels. The free roaming deer sound cute but I want to see a tanuki. You failed in your blogging duties to take cute pictures and post them for me :)-

  18. I love love Japan! I didn’t get to go to this place on my last trip to Japan, but definitely on the next one! I didn’t even notice food on the train, are they on all the bullet trains?

  19. This was such a great guide! I haven’t been to Japan yet, but I think my sister made it to one of these places when she was there. I love the history behind the islands, that it was a place where the gods lived. Anywhere that has that type of history, I’m always instantly drawn to!

  20. You’re reminding me of my own visit to Miyajima, back when I was working in Japan! Loved the post, tons of great info and photos. Also, I will have to try the ryokan stay on my next visit — we only went for a day trip.

  21. Looking at this post makes me wanna go to Japan now! I’ve actually not heard of Miyajima before – but it looks like a great place to explore for a few days. A temple tour plus a food tour sounds like the way to go!

  22. I haven’t visited Japan yet but it has always been a favorite in my bucket list. Had no idea that Miyajima is so serene and peaceful. It looks like a different world. Great photos and the food! Amazing 🙂

  23. It looks like a great place to visit. I have never heard about it before. I especially like your advice about taking a ropeway gondola ride. I love views from above. Thank you for detailed information and gorgeous pictures.

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