Places

Miyajima – Japan’s Island of the Gods

Miyajima Island is one of Japan’s top tourist destinations. This beautiful island – also known as Itsukushima – is located just south of Hiroshima. In ancient times, God was thought to live on the island. It’s certainly beautiful enough – if I was Diety, I could see myself choosing to live there. Miyajima Island can be quickly accessed from Hiroshima as a day trip, or it would be a wonderful place to spend a few days, staying in one of the island’s small hotels or Japanese guest houses. It boasts one of Japan’s most famous landmarks, a beautiful mountain temple, a Japanese maple tree park, mountain hiking, a small seaside village, and great seafood. We spent a day exploring Miyajima Island as part of our 9-day Japan itinerary. Let me show you its top sites.

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Top Sites on Miyajima Island

Itsukushima Shrine

The Itsukushima Shrine is one of Japan’s most visited sites and is famous for its large red torii gate sitting in front of the seaside shrine out in the ocean. This Shinto shrine dates back to the 12th century, though it has been rebuilt a few times since then.  The shrine’s main buildings are constructed on stilts over the water.  Supposedly, it was constructed like this so worshipers could visit the shrine without setting foot on the holy island itself – commoners weren’t allowed on the island in ancient times.  The Shrine is listed as a National Treasure of Japan and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island in Japan
While walking through the Itsukushima Shrine with the 5-storied pagoda behind

During our visit, the famed torii gate was undergoing restoration and covered by scaffolding.  I was disappointed enough by this that I almost didn’t visit the Island. This would have been a huge mistake! But, I poutingly didn’t take any pictures of the covered gate.

We did walk through the shrine.  Honestly, I didn’t think the building itself was all that impressive.  But the views out across the ocean and up to the sacred mountain behind are beautiful (certainly, the prime reason the shrine was built on this spot).  I was more impressed with some of the smaller touches I found while walking through shrine….

Old bridge and lantern at the Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island
Picture from the Istukushima Shrine

Daisho-in Temple

This temple complex is located up along the side of the holy Mount Misen directly behind the shrine.  Just a short walk through some of the quieter streets of Miyajima takes you up to its entrance.  This Buddhist mountain temple was my favorite temple during our entire trip in Japan and my favorite site on Miyajima!

The entrance to Daisho-in Temple on Miyajima Island in Japan
The temple’s entrance

Daisho-in Temple consists of several buildings progressing up the side of the mountain, along with small gardens and grottos.  If it’s possible to have a site remind you of something straight out of a cartoon, I kept thinking about the mountain temple in Kung Fu Panda the whole time I was there.  The buildings are varied and beautiful, the grottos and shrines are peaceful, and the views up to the top of the mountain and down to the ocean are spectacular.  Plus it really seemed like a working temple as opposed to a tourist site.  There were only a handful of tourists (at mid afternoon), and several monk-led ceremonies were quietly taking place as we explored the various levels of the complex. 

Buildings and Gardens at the Daisho-in Temple on Miyajima Island Japan
One of the grottos at Daisho-in Temple on Miyajima Island
Prayer Wheels at Daisho-in Temple
Prayer Wheels at the Temple
Buildings at Daisho-in temple with Mount Misen behind

Momijidani Park

Momijidani Park is one of Japan’s most famous maple tree parks.  Like Diasho-in Temple, it’s located behind the Itsukushima Shrine up along the mountainside.  We took a well-marked pathway cutting across to the park directly from Daisho-in’s main gate.  We were visiting in late October, a few weeks before peak fall foliage.  Still, the leaves were just beginning to turn and it was beautiful.  Maple trees, streams, waterfalls, and even a coy fish pond.  

Waterfall and Japanese maples in Momijidani Park on Miyajima Island
The Japanese maples just starting to show their fall colors in Momijidani Park
Mountain stream in Momijidani Park
Coy Fish pond in Momijidani Park

From the Park, a popular trail leads to the top of Mount Misen.  Alternatively, a cable car called the Miyajima Ropeway will give you less strenuous access to the top. We didn’t have time this trip.

Senjokaku Pavilion

Walking down from the Park, back into the main village, you can’t help but have your eye drawn to the Toyokuni 5-story pagoda and the adjacent Senjokaku Pavilion.  The large wooden Pavilion was constructed in 1587 as a place for monks to gather and chant for fallen soldiers.  You can enter the building and admire the craftsmanship while also taking in  the view out across the Shrine below and Mount Misen above.  

The Senjokaku Pavilion and nearby pagoda on Miyajima Island

Omotesando Shopping Street

The Omotesando Shopping Street runs in between the ferry pier and the Itsukushima shrine.  It is only a few blocks long, and offers a collection of souvenir shops, street side food vendors, and restaurants.  It’s a great place to sample the huge oysters that are famous in this area.  Vendors grill them streetside,  or you can sit down and enjoy them inside one of the local restaurants.  If you don’t fancy oysters, you’ll find plenty of other food options along this street. 

We ate lunch at Kakiya, located midway through the shopping street.  The menu selection was oysters-only, but that’s why we were there, after all.  We ate chargrilled oysters in the shell, deep-fried oysters, and stewed oysters in a flavorful broth served with rice.  Each version was delicious and it would be hard to pick a favorite, though to my surprise, I would choose the fried oyster.  It was deep-fried in a light crispy batter, and the oyster had an almost-creamy consistency in the center. 

How To Get to Miyajima Island

We visited Miyajima as part of a two-day side trip from Kyoto. We traveled to Hiroshima on the Shinkansen (bullet train).  Many of these speedy trains connect the two cities daily, and the  journey takes less than 2 hours.  The round trip cost is approximately $220.  Yes, bullet trains trips in Japan are expensive!  But, you can reduce your transportation costs in Japan by purchasing the Japan Rail Pass online ahead of your trip.  If you plan on at least two bullet train journeys, it more than pays for itself, plus it covers local JR trains as well.  Japan Rail offers money-saving regional passes too.  The Kansai-Hiroshima Regional Pass would be perfect for those traveling to Hiroshima from Osaka or Kyoto. Click here for more information and pricing on the Japan Rail Pass and regional passes.

Alternatively, a cheaper but much longer bus ride (approximately 6-7 hours) connects Hiroshima from the Kyoto/Osaka area. For those visiting from Tokyo, direct flights connect the two cities.

Picture of a shinkansen bullet train in Japan
The Shinkansen

From Hiroshima’s large central train station, a 25-minute ride on a JR train connects to the small Miyajima station.  From there, we walked a couple blocks, following the signs to the ferry port, where two different ferry companies offer a quick 10-15 minute ferry ride across to the island. Each charges the same (around $3.50 round trip), and I couldn’t find a clear advantage of one over the other, with one exception.  Holders of the JR Pass ride the JR Ferry for free.

A sunset photo while riding the JR Ferry from Miyajima Island
Returning on the Miyajima Ferry at sunset

Where to Stay on Miyajima Island

Lodging on Miyajima is limited.  There are a few small hotels and Japanese guest houses (Ryokan).  Booking.com is a great website to use for finding them. Book well in advance if you want to stay on the island.  By the time I added Miyajima to my itinerary, I couldn’t find anything on the island at a reasonable price. Alternatively, plenty of lodging options are available in nearby Hiroshima.

Final Thoughts

I loved Miyajima Island! And to think I almost didn’t go because the iconic torii gate was under construction! The tripper in me had alternative plans in Hiroshima for the afternoon in case we decided to return from the island after a few hours. Turns out we spent the entire day, returning close to sunset. One day seemed adequate to see the highlights of the island. But I also think it would have been great to stay on Miyajima for a couple days and really soak it all in. Maybe next time….

This day on Miyajima Island was just part of our 9 days in Japan. We also spent a day in nearby Hiroshima – the highlight of which was a visit to the Peace Memorial Park. Click here to read more about visiting Hiroshima.

As I mentioned earlier, Kyoto was the base for our Japan trip. In addition to visiting Miyajima Island and Hiroshima, we took several shorter side trips. Click here to read about those easy day trips from Kyoto.

Our lunch on Miyajima was delicious. Check out my post on the Food of Japan for more insight into Japanese cuisine.

28 Comments

  • Vinn

    Awesome! Japan is on my list too! Bookmarking this in case I have room in my itinerary. I agree, at least 2 days to enjoy Miyajima. Thanks for the tips.

  • Peggy Zipperer

    What a lovely side trip! It’s too bad that the torii gate was under construction but it looks like you enjoyed it anyway. The lore about the stilts being utilized at the shrine so as not to step on the island is fascinating! That temple looks beautiful, bonus points for the Kung Fu Panda reference!

  • Wendy White

    I can see why Daisho-in Temple was one of your favourite places, love that it isn’t too touristy. Miyajima Island is definitely going to be added to my Japan list thanks to this post. Great tip about the bullet train, thanks!!

    • thethoroughtripper

      We saw lots of temples on this trip. Interestingly, the two most beautiful – this one and Honen-in Temple in Kyoto – were the most peaceful with only a handful of tourists.

  • Lisa at Following the Rivera

    I’m adding Miyajima Island to the list! The temple and scenery is stunning; you’ve given me plenty to plan ahead for.

  • Shannon

    Japan sure sounds awesome! I’ve been learning more about the islands of Japan (one of my IG travel friends) has lived there for 15 years. I am fascinated by this place! Would so love to see the maple tree park – especially in the fall! Nice article!

    • thethoroughtripper

      We really loved Japan! If we had been there two weeks later – mid November – the fall colors would have been showing in all their glory. More tourists though….

  • Linda Kouwenhoven

    What stunning photos! Such a fantastic selection of buildings and forests and statues. I never realized how much Japan had to offer until your recent posts…and so much seems to be quite easily accessible with some good planning.

  • Becky Exploring

    Miyajima Island looks like a lovely place to spend a day. I can see why it would be considered a holy spot. The nature combined with the historic shrine have me sold. It’s always disappointing when the historic site you want to visit is under renovation, but I’m glad you visited the island anyway. That way you could share it with us! 😉

  • Lannie Travels

    I have never heard of Miyajima Island before. It looks picturesque and quaint! I’d be pouting over the scaffolding covering the tori gate too. You’re not the only one! But oyster lunch. YUMMY.

    • thethoroughtripper

      Thanks Kasia! From where I was standing, the famous gate was right behind me in the the ocean. As I mentioned, I decided not to take any pictures of it because it was covered in scaffolding, so I turned and took this one instead.

  • Stefan (BerkeleySqB)

    I totally get why you were thinking about the mountain temple in Kung Fu Panda the whole time, Steven. I love Japan, but really only ever visited Tokyo and its surrounding area so far. Had never heard of this place, but just put it on the list. Ellie & I are hoping to stop over in Tokyo again for a few days on our next trip to Sydney in 2021. Maybe we can squeeze it in. Those trains are fast…

    • thethoroughtripper

      Definitely try and get outside of Tokyo and see some of the rest of Japan. The bullet trains definitely make it fairly convenient to do that

    • thethoroughtripper

      Miyajima was one of many highlights of our trip, but I feel that it’s a must-visit when you do get a chance to go

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