Miyajima was the second place we visited during our recent trip to Japan. We loved it so much that I thought of writing a little “Miyajima Guide” to invite you to include it in your next itinerary! It is absolutely worth it. Miyajima is a small island in front of Hiroshima (an absolute must visit place!) and it is famous for the Itsukushima shrine and its “floating tori”. Though there are also other beautiful temples to visit and the island has a big population of… deer.
The first thing you see when approaching the island on the ferry is the famous Floating Tori.
The tori is not always floating, it depends on the tides. Which means that sometimes you can walk to it and see if from close. It is quite impressive, I must say. Also, walking on the wet sand is a very interesting activity on its own as you see what is usually submerged by the water.
The floating tori is part of the Itsukushima Shrine, the “floating temple”. We visited it during low tide and it is very beautiful. Red is its characteristic colour and it is quite big. I particularly liked the inside of the temple, with the wooden corridors and lanterns.
I also loved the outside area of it and the view on the floating tori.
I highly recommend you spend a night in Miyajima. We did and loved it. This way, you get to enjoy the island when the crowds have left and, above all, you can get to see the sights “by night”. And look at these photos… I am sure you don’t want to miss this!
Unfortunately, we were not very lucky with the weather, as it rained all the time! Not only, while we were there, fog started to come up from behind the floating tori (which was really floating at night, thanks to the high tide) and it was a breathtaking view.
There are other temples to visit, like the Daiganji, but we particularly enjoyed visiting the Daisho-in.
It’s a Buddhist temple, and there are 500 statues lining the steps to the temple and all these images have unique facial expressions! Fascinating!
And there are also 1000 Fudo (Immovable King) images that have been donated by worshipers.
And then, just wander around and enjoy the beautiful streets of this quiet island.
I regret not having a lot of time to do this. We arrived quite late (from Tokyo!) and we only had enough time to visit the main sights. I have promised myself that I will come back and take it easier. There are many little shops and tea house/cafes worth exploring and the deer are another funny attraction.
There are also the Momijidani Park and Mount Misen (reachable by ropeway), but we didn’t visit them because of the rain.
Miyajima is particularly beautiful during autumn, as there are plenty of maple trees (called momiji) that turn red. Just a hint to myself… 😉
Miyajima is famous for its seafood, particularly for the local oysters. You can find them everywhere … even in the food stalls around the Itsukushima shrine.
We tried the fried version… yum!
Another typical food item is the momiji manju, a maple-leaf-shaped cake filled with sweet bean paste.
If you are staying overnight, I highly recommend you eat at your ryokan and try a kaiseki dinner. We did and loved it. They food is beautiful and delicious and an experience of its own. Scroll down to read more about our kaiseki dinner experience!
In Miyajima, we stayed at Auberge Watanabe, a beautiful Japanese ryokan.
This was one of the few changes we did to our original itinerary of 2011 (when we had first planned to visit Japan). We had thought of staying in a different ryokan, but we changed our mind after reading a few positive experiences of people who had stayed at Auberge Watanabe. And I am so glad we booked it. Our stay was perfect. The owners came to pick us up at the peer and let us sit down at their café during the check in procedure, which was quite fast. They also gave us some delicious matcha tea and momiji manju, which helped to warm us up, as it was a bit cold and rainy.
Miyajima is quite small, so no matter where your accommodation is, you can easily walk almost everywhere. Auberge Watanabe is just in front of Daisho-in and a 5 minute walk from the Itsukushima Shrine. It is a family business, so it’s not a huge hotel, so book in advance! We loved how cozy it was and the owners made us feel at home right from the start.
Our room was very big! It actually had 2 Japanese style rooms, a bathroom (with a private onsen!), a toilet and a verandah!
We even had a Yukata each to wear for the night and all the usual toiletry sets you find in Japanese hotels, like toothbrushes and toothpaste, razors etc…
As I mentioned before, Miyajima is a great place to experience a Kaiseki dinner in your ryokan. A Kaiseki dinner is is a traditional multi-course Japanese haute cuisine dinner. It balances the taste, texture, appearance, and colours of food. Only fresh seasonal (and often local) ingredients are used and are prepared in ways that aim to enhance their flavour. The finished dishes are carefully presented on plates chosen to enhance both the appearance and the seasonal theme of the meal. The garnishes are beautiful too and they are often made with real leaves and flowers. It is an amazing experience both for your palate and for your eyes.
We ate in a specific area in the ryokan with a table almost at the level of the ground. The good thing was that you could actually sit on the ground and use it as a bench as there was a hole where you could keep your legs. So it looked like you were eating sitting down a traditional Japanese table, but you were actually quite comfortable.
We had a lot of food and even our kids had their little junior kaiseki dinner. It looked so pretty and it tasted even better.
My husband and I had some cold sake.
And a local beer with our meal.
And we also had a very nice drink with a sakura flower in it to begin with.
Then the food started to arrive. We began with Sakizuke, an appetizer similar to the French amuse-bouche.
Then we had Hassun, the second course, which is meant to set the seasonal theme, which in our case was spring as you can see form the nice sakura shaped item in the photo. I don’t exactly know what we ate, but it was clearly fish based: there was stuffed baby calamari, a piece of fish, a sea snail, tiny squids with vegetables, broad beans. Everything was delicious.
Then we had Mukōzuke, seasonal sashimi.
Then we had Takiawase, simmered meat and seasonal vegetables. The meat was so tender and juicy!
But the highlight of our dinner was definitely Yakimono: grilled fish head served with a sweet soy sauce. I had never eaten a fish head before and I was surprised by how much flesh there was and by how tender it was. This was probably the best thing we ate during the whole trip.
My husband also had the fish eye, which apparently is a delicacy.
We also had some pickles, a warm soup and rice.
And we finished off this amazing dinner with Mizumono, seasonal fruits.
What an amazing experience it was!
We also had breakfast at the ryokan. My husband and the girls had a western style breakfast which was delicious. The bread was particularly good and it was home-made at the ryokan.
I instead had the Japanese style breakfast which was just as tasty and it included tamagoyaki, sausages and salmon (besides miso soup and rice).
I highly recommend Auberge Watanabe for the comfort and the beauty of the room, the friendly service and the great location. I also recommend you eat there and try the Kaiseki dinner. It is a bit pricey, but it is absolutely worth every penny. It is an unforgettable experience for your tastebuds and for your eyes and it was one of the highlights of our holiday!
This is definitely the place where we will be staying again on our next visit.
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HOW TO GET THERE
The easiest way to get to Miyajima is by Shinkansen till Hiroshima Station. From there, take the JR Sanyo Line to Miyajimaguchi Station (25 minutes, covered by the Japan Rail Pass). From Miyajimaguchi Station, it is a short walk to the ferry pier from where ferries depart frequently for Miyajima. If you have the JR pass, take the JR Ferry which is included in your pass. It takes 10 minutes by boat to get to Miyajima from Miyajimaguchi.
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