Miyajima is a MUST for any trip to Japan. This small island has great vibes: It is a perfect blend of all things Japanese – toriis, temples, shrines, roaming deer, delicious seafood – but with the tranquil feel of island living. I’d recommend that you spend a least a day and a night here. That way, you can catch some sultry sun by day and then cozy up in a traditional Japanese ryokan by night.
Miyajima is a UNESCO World Heritage site, so there is plenty to do. Here are eight highlights:
The Great Torii. Check with your hotel about times for high and low tide during your visit. When the tide is low, walk out to the Great Torii for some spectacular photos (see the main photo above, haha). Once the tide rises, the Great Torii appears to be floating on the water.
Itsukushima Jinja (Jinja is “shrine” in Japanese). This Shinto shrine is unlike others in Japan because it is right on the water, floating on the sea like the torii that introduces it. Although this shrine is a commonly frequented tourist attraction, Japanese people of the Shinto faith also come here to pray. It is common to clap as part of Shinto prayer, so the clapping you hear here is a sign that you are in a sacred space.
Daisho-in Temple. This temple was one of my favorites in Japan. Daisho-in is actually a complex of Buddhist temples in the hills of the island. When you arrive, seek a moment of Zen by sitting for a short meditation in front of the gold Buddha, located in the temple directly to your right upon entering. Buddhist temples are built to create an environment suitable for meditation, so keep this in mind during your visit. When you’re done at the gold Buddha, explore the area as you stumble upon other small temples. Figures of Buddhist deities lie along every twist and turn, so make sure to walk up every staircase and through every doorway that you can! If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a prayer service like we did. The sound of the monk’s rhythmic chants through the speaker system is mesmerizing.
Stroll through Momiji-dani-koen. This lush green park is a wonderful place for a relaxing stroll. Get lost as you meander down different paths. The bright red bridges in the park contrast beautifully with the green vegetation, so this is an ideal spot for photos. Be sure to make friends with some free-roaming deer while you’re there!
Senjo-kaku. Stop by this large pavilion for a great view of the red five-story pagoda that can be seen from a distance all over the island. The hall of the pavilion is open and breezy, making it a great place for a short rest.
Oysters. A visit to an island would be incomplete without some fresh seafood. The oysters in Miyajima are huge and delicious. The typical oysters here are grilled in their shells, so they’re not grey and slimy like a raw oyster can be. They’re the best oysters I’ve ever had, and I recommend that you try them even if you don’t usually like oysters!
Omotesando Street. This is pleasant pedestrian walkway lined with shops and booths selling delicious treats. This street definitely caters to tourists, but it is well worth a stroll. You’ll soon spot the popular momiji manjyu, a small cake in the shape of a leaf. The cakes have a variety of fillings, including red bean, custard, and matcha green tea. Have one after your oysters.
My visit to Miyajima was one of the best experiences I had in Japan. Since it is easy to get to Miyajima from Hiroshima – another must-see city in Japan – there’s virtually no excuse not to go. I wish you the best of travels on an island that is no less than magical!