Goal for the day? The top of Mt Misen!
I enthusiastically parted the curtains of our room high up in the Hiroshima Granvia Hotel to watch the daylight creeping into the sky across over the city. The weather was grey and more hazy then would be ideal but it wasn’t going to stop us this time. We had the day set aside to spend on Miyajima Island and were determined this time to get to the top of Mt Misen. This highest peak on the island presents stunning views on a clear day and I’d been really hoping that the day would dawn sunny. Sadly the sunshine didn’t materialise but in hindsight it was still worth making the trip up and it needn’t be a tough climb. Combined with the other attractions of Miyajima Island (Itsukushima) it’s a day-trip we would highly recommended.
Table of Contents
Reaching the summit of Mt Misen
There are 4 ways to the top of Mt Misen, most intersect and share sections at various points. Three involve hiking from the bottom and the forth uses the rope-way to take out about 80% of the ascent making it assessable to more people and much more achievable with limited time. Even with the rope-way though you’ll want comfortable walking shoes and to be prepared for a reasonable hike. The mountain is 535 metres above sea level and from the final rope-way station you’ll still have to ascend about 100 metres to the summit.
1. The Ropeway
Don’t think of this option as cheating. It’s a choice that allows those without the time, or physical ability to make the full climb, the chance to experience the views and ambiance of the mountain. You’re still going to get a fair amount of exercise walking the island and climbing to the summit. If you have the time consider taking the ropeway in one direction and seeing other sites on the way up or back down one of the trails.
2. The Momijidani Course
This is the shortest route to the top at 2.5 kilometers but it gets steeper as you approach the top and you should allow 2 hours to the summit. This route is especially pretty during autumn when the maple trees along the Momiji River are decked out in their jewel colours. The entry point for this trail is near the lower rope-way station.
3. The Daisho-in Course
This Daisho-in course is arguable the one with the best views and is less steep than the other two options. The path is 3 kilometers and you will want to allow about 2 hours to walk it one way. You’ll climb more than 2000 stone steps and pass by the Takinomiya Shrine and Shiraito Falls as you walk. The other attraction on this trail is the spectacular view of Itsukushima Shrine that alone makes it worth taking this path. The starting point is near Daisho-in temple, the most distinguished temple on Miyajima Island and it’s well worth exploring in its own right.
4. The Omoto Course
This Omoto trail is 3.2 kilometres and you’ll need to allow around 2.5 hours to walk it one way. The path is sloping with many stone steps. It starts from Omoto shrine and winds through the fir tree forest, past interesting rock formations and the Iwaya Daishi Cave.
Each path and the rope-way offer their benefits, it’s just a personal choice and perhaps seasonal preference which way you go.
The 7 wonders of Mt Misen
There are said to be 7 wonders of Mt Misen that demonstrate what a spiritual place the mountain is. Personally I didn’t think it needed any ‘wonders’ to really demonstrate that, it’s just a feeling you get while on the trails and as you approach the temples and natural features.
While standing near the top taking in the view I looking down to see a deer standing next to me quietly looking out to sea with me. Well that doesn’t happen every day and it would have been rude to walk away so I stood and gazed out into the sea mist for a bit longer. In the Japanese Shinto religion deer are said to be messengers of the gods and I think he was quite effective in delivering the days message to me. Be present, live in the moment, appreciate your blessings.
There were two of the wonders though that I head heard about and was excited to have the opportunity to see. The first was the eternal flame. The flame has been burning on the mountain for around 1,200 years since the time of Kobo Daishi when he lit it as part of his spiritual training. This flame burning as part of this temple is the source of the flame of peace that burns in the Hiroshima Peace Park.
The second one I really wanted to see was the tree that legend tells us sprung from the staff of Kobo Daishi. The tree known as the ‘Plum of crosier’ is located near the eternal flame and Misenhonde Hall.
The story behind this old knarled ume tree is that Kobo Daishi leaned his staff on the ground here and it took root growing in that spot. Since that time the tree is said to be sensitive to the state of the nation with it failing to bloom in years when ominous signs are present or when tragedy strikes. I was very please to see it’s few branches covered in rich pink blossom that day bringing hope for an auspicious year for Japan.
If you’re interested in incorporating any of the remaining wonders into your route up and down the mountain the 7 wonders are:
- The eternal flame (Kiezu-no-hi) now housed in the Kiezu-no-Reikado Hall.
- The ebb and flow rock (Kanman-iwa rock) located high on the mountain but where the water level rises and falls with the tide.
- Plum of crosier (Shakujo-no-ume), the apricot tree that sprung from the staff of Daishi
- Mandara-iwa rock, a huge bedrock the size of a couple of dozen tatami mats that bears the gigantic Sanskrit handwriting of Kobo Daishi engraved on its face. Rock falls in recent years mean the path to see the rock faces is now closed and access is forbidden.
- Sound of the wooden clappers, a mysterious sound at midnight that some say is made by the long nosed goblin, Tengu.
- The showered cherry tree (Shigure-zakura) was reported during the Edo period as appearing as if it had been rained on even on a sunny day. Unfortunately the sakura tree was chopped down and nothing remains of it now.
- Sea-fire Japan Cedar (Ryuto-no-sugi) was a giant cedar tree that was reported as the source of mysterious lights that could be seen from the Seto Inland Sea below. The cedar has since died and only the stump remains.
While the ‘wonders’ add some mystery to the mountain the natural environment is what what I enjoyed most. There’s wide variety of undisturbed forest and huge rock formations in addition to the temple outposts, caves and general history of the area.
Hiking etiquette vs everyday manners
Something I do struggle with in Japan is observing the local custom of not acknowledging people in the street with a smile and greeting as I would at home. Sometimes I fail but I try to remember. Japan is extremely crowded and good manners dictate that you avert your eyes and pretend not to see your neighbour, friend or a stranger in the street. It’s not something that comes naturally for me.
However something happens when you step off the city street and onto a dirt trail. Now I’m not talking about serious hiking here, it seems to be on any trail. The first few times it happened I assumed it was an anomaly, perhaps someone who wasn’t actually a local. But after a few times at different spots around the country I came to realise that once you step onto that dirt track all bets are off. Everyone smiles and greets everyone they pass. EVERYONE! Trails like these in Japan are popular, so you’ll pass a steady stream of people going the other way. After a while it feels a bit like a walking meditation mantra as you konnichiwa or ohayo gozaimasu your way up and down the hill. After you’ve been climbing a while you might wish that spritely grandma that passed you had maintained her usual reserve as you wheeze out your greeting and try to look friendly and less puffed.
Another thing you’ll notice is the energy and fitness of the older generations in Japan. Now I’m sure most of them have never been inside a gym but the lifestyle, despite the modern conveniences, still includes a good amount of walking. We’ve regularly noticed the steady and easy pace that older Japanese people walk at. It’s especially noticeable on a climb like Mt Misen or somewhere like climbing the hill through the torii at Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. They never seem to need to stop for a breather before they reach the top. It’s clearly a lifestyle that I should pay some attention to.
The Essential Information
Accessing Miyajima from Hiroshima Station
Take a local train from Hiroshima station to Miyajimaguch, this will take around 30 minutes and cost Y410. The costs is covered by the JR Pass if you have one. From the station walk the short distance down the road to the ferry. The ferry takes 10 minutes to make the crossing and is also covered by the JR Pass. It will cost you Y180 if you aren’t using the pass.
There are two segments to the ropeway, the lower station is Momijidani, the mid station is Kayadani and the top station is Shishiiwa. If you choose to take the rope-way a return ticket on both segments will cost Y1,800. I’m an absolute fanatic about the transport options in Japan so there was no way I couldn’t take a ride.
The ropeway operates daily from 9am until 5pm unless suspended due to bad weather. I would recommend it not just for saving time on the way up (or down) but for the spectacular views out over the Seto Inland Sea.
With signs as detailed as this it would be difficult to get lost looking for the station. It’s also helpful though to pick up a free English map at the ferry terminal to guide you as you wander around the island. From the ferry it’s about 25 minutes to the ropeway but as you’ll probably be walking in that direction to see the O-torii gate and the floating Itsukushima Shrine anyway it’s only about 15 minutes beyond there.
Walking up through Momijidani park is really pretty so you might actually want to allow the time to walk not ‘run a little’ to enjoy the scenery, especially if you are lucky enough to be there during autumn. Even in early spring before the leaves have returned to many of the deciduous trees it was beautiful.
There are plenty of really good options on Miyajima to purchase meals and snacks but make sure you take water and anything else you want with you when you head up Mt Misen. The choices at the top station were very limited as you would expect with no road access to supply them. There are also restroom facilities at the top ropeway station.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day on Miyajima and despite a few drops of rain I was happy we went ahead with our plan to get to the top of Mt Misen. Unfortunately the views weren’t what we knew they could be on a clear day so it will be back on our list when we make it back to that part of Japan again in the future. Please let me know in the comments if you’ve climbed Mt Misen or plan to when you visit the Hiroshima Prefecture.