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The stunning Mt Misen, Miyajima

Mt Misen Miyajima

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.

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.

Mt Misen Ropeway, Miyajima

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.

Daisho-in on Miyajima Island

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.

Deer on Miyajima Island

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.

Mt Misen - The Eternal Flame

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.

Ume | 2 Aussie Travellers
Plum of crosier | Miyajima

 

If you’re interested in incorporating any of the remaining wonders into your route up and down the mountain the 7 wonders are:

  1. The eternal flame (Kiezu-no-hi) now housed in the Kiezu-no-Reikado Hall.
  2. The ebb and flow rock (Kanman-iwa rock) located high on the mountain but where the water level rises and falls with the tide.
  3. Plum of crosier (Shakujo-no-ume), the apricot tree that sprung from the staff of Daishi
  4. 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.
  5. Sound of the wooden clappers, a mysterious sound at midnight that some say is made by the long nosed goblin, Tengu.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Mt Misen | Miyajima
Mt Misen | Miyajima

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.

Mt Misen | Miyajima Island
Mt Misen | Miyajima Island

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.

The Ropeway

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.

Miyajima sign to Mt Misen Ropeway

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.

Momijidani Park, Miyajima

Other facilities

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.

27 Comments

  • We are in Iwakuni, planning our day trip to Hiroshima for tomorrow. The Peace Memorial and museum are our priorities, but we are planning to make it to Miyajima in the afternoon if we can. Sounds like we will only scratch the surface of what the island has to offer, but if we love it, we may come back (we live in Fukuoka at the moment). I loved what you said about Japanese hiking etiquette. My husband and I alternately laugh and feel frustrated by the fact that we can look someone directly in the eye and say good morning, and they will pretend not to have noticed. But when I did a hike by myself a few weeks ago, I got “konnichiwa’d out” 🙂

    • Hi Stephanie, have a fabulous day! We’ve only made a day trip to Fukuoka so far and it was the only day in all our travels in Japan that was completely rained out so we mostly saw the inside of cafes, restaurants and Canal City – we’re going to try again next time as from the research we’d done I’m sure we’ll love it.

      • We had a great time and managed to see Hiroshima and Miyajima – so beautiful! Thanks for the tips! Yes, when it rains in Fukuoka, it pours! The weather in May and the first part of June has been perfect. I’m not sure if this is normal or not because we got here last August. November/December is also a good time to visit because it’s not that cold and those months are pretty dry. Let me know if you plan to be in the area – we expect to be here until at least next spring.

  • We stayed a couple of nights in Miyajima in 2011. We loved it so much we intend to return soon. We used the ropeway to ascend Mount Misen but very much looking forward to hiking it.

    • Have a great trip back Mandy. We hope to hike two different paths next time. It depends a bit on what the days high tide time is as we’d want to see the shrine and tori floating again too and have enough time to get up and back without rushing. My Japan list never gets any shorter 🙂

  • Sorry to hear the sun didn’t come out for you on the first day, though you still managed to get some pretty awesome photos!! And I totally relate to your mention about the older generation of Japan so much – we traveled to Japan in year 9 when I was 15 odd; doing these kind of hikes, having 90 years olds who were in better shape than you is a little off putting!! Definitely shames you into wanting to hit the gym more often!!!!

  • It’s nice to see what the view is like from the top. Our visit to Miyajima coincided with the tail end of a hurricane so we were restricted to what we could see. I must say though, despite the rain we got I really fell in love with what I did get to see. The charming yet cheeky deer, the floating torii and pagoda all were great.

    • A hurricane! Wow that’s major, we’ve mostly been really lucky with the weather on our trips there so I can’t complain about a bit of sea fog can I 🙂 Weren’t the deer gorgeous, we loved them so much too, we we so lucky that a mother deer with two little babies follow us for a while from Diasho-in

  • The wonders and the views make me regret not hiking on Misen when in Miyajima. We only had an afternoon there and walked around the island, though my curiosity kept at that beautiful peak up above. I even had a conversation with an old Japanese man about Misen and how the views there are pretty variable, as you mentioned yours not being the best.

    Thanks for sharing this post. It really makes me want to head back to Miyajima!

    • Thanks Duke, we had people say to us on our way that up the views wouldn’t be good but we didn’t have another day available in the area so we weren’t too worried. It wasn’t as photogenic as some pictures we’ve seen by others but the sea fog was actually quite interesting, you could still see a hint of the islands and mainland, it was a bit like a magical fantasy seascape.

  • This looks like a great day trip. I think I would spend more time taking photos than actually hiking because it’s so beautiful on the way up. I lived in Japan over a decaded ago but I’m not very familiar with Miyajima. My husband and I recently decided to take a trip together back since we’ve both been on our own. I hope we have enough time to get outside of the city and see more of Japan.

  • There have been recent studies on people of a particular region of Japan and of Sardinia, as they live till very old age and each year researchers try to study their diet and way of life to uncover their secrets to longevity. Perhaps that is why they are so energetic.

    I hear what you say on acknowledging people in the street. I even greet people I don’t know, in small places in Italy – and that is not common but it is a habit I got in the US and the UK, and I like it 🙂

    • That’s really interesting Claudia, the Japanese as a whole certainly appear to achieve a longevity with a good quality of life throughout. Especially as for many it’s despite, or perhaps because of some shortage and hardship during their lifetime.

  • WOW- your photos are fabulous! I always hate when I go hiking and the views aren’t the best because it’s not super clear. Seems like you had a great time tho, regardless!

  • I’d probably opt for the Ropeway going up & Daisho-in course going down. That’s probably the easiest way around without compromising the view 🙂

    Interesting about the contrasting cultures of the same group of people in two different places/environments. I understand Japanese could be very helpful though in the street, if you’re lost and looking for some directions. A few friends told me, some even go out of the way by walking along with them to their destination.

    • We have found the Japanese incredibly helpful too, so many times we’ve had people help us with directions or other information or just ask to ‘practice their English’ with us which is invariably for our benefit not theirs I’m sure. In Kamakura a man insisted we take his map because he thought our little tourist map was no good for walking further out where we were going and in Hiroshima a young man walked all the way from the train station to the gardens with us and talked to us about his city, we’ve been offered similar help in Kyoto and other places too.

      The lack of street greetings isn’t a lack of kindness or friendship, it definitely comes from a place of respect and custom.

  • Looks like a pretty manageable hike! I’d definitely take the third route for the views and to see that shrine. Still haven’t been to this part of the world unfortunately.

    • Definitely a very possibly short hike for most people Dannielle. The paths are well formed and marked so you won’t get lost and with several different routes available for the most part it’s not too busy either.

  • Wow, Mt Misen looks spectacular! The trail is so beautiful. Judging by the photos, it doesn’t appear that it was crowded at all. I like how you were able to share a special moment with the deer admiring the sea, I think that he was a messenger too 🙂

    • Thanks Heather. It really wasn’t nearly as crowded as I expected it to be considering it was peak sakura blossom that week and Miyajima Island is quite a popular destination for blossom viewing. It wasn’t deserted by any stretch but quiet enough to feel the tranquility of the mountain.

  • “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.” What a wonderful encounter to punctuate a very meaningful experience. Not a coincidence, I’m sure. 🙂

  • What a gorgeous looking place. Reminds me if when I hiked up Huang Shan in China. It was summer and 38 degrees. We wanted to get the cable car up and then walk down. Well we got in the wrong queue and ended up walking up 6kms worth if steps!!

    • We’ve not been yet but Huang Shan looks stunning, summer in that heat would have been tough to do. The number of people on the trails in Asia is a bit of an eye opener after Australia, I looked into what was required to do the Mt Fuji climb and although that’s a more strenuous track and usually done at night to see the sunrise people still reported it being like a human chain going up it gets so busy. Would be worth it for the views and to have done it though.

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