If you’re staying in Hiroshima then we’d say a day on Miyajima Island is essential. It’s also possible to do it as a longer day trip from cities like Kyoto, Osaka or Kobe especially if you’re using the JR Pass as the bullet train, local train and ferry are all included. There’s more information on doing longer distance days like this in our post the 10 best day trips from Kyoto.
Our top 10 things to do on Miyajima Island
A few people will visit Miyajima Island, snap a few images of the famous floating torii and head off. Others will stay overnight or for a few days on the island. We’ve visited a couple of times for day trips each time and as the ferry starts early and runs into the evening that has worked well for us, it’s a lot more tranquil early or later in the day. The priority for most people is to be there for a high tide when both the Torii and the shrine itself appear to float on the tide. It’s really worth being there to see it right at the top of the tide as the bay is very flat and the tide departs quickly. You can use this link to check the high and low tide times in English for the date of your visit.
The Floating Torii
The great Torii gate in the distance with the shrine behind is one of your first images of Miyajima Island as you approach on the ferry but you’ll see it much closer and more clearly once on the island. During the high tide it appears to be floating in the sea and at low tide you can walk out to it and pass through the gate.
The first great Torii on the site was built in 1168 and the gate you see there today is the 8th iteration built in 1875. A torii is a gate between the everyday world and a sacred space, in this case Itsukushima Shrine. The vermilion colour, that unique orange you see on shrine buildings and at some temples across Japan is believed to keep evil spirits away so in a way by entering through the gate you are both being respectful and purifying yourself of evil spirits before entering. If you’re interested take a read of this post discussing the right way to enter and other shrine etiquette for visitors.
I imagined that the gate must be driven deep into the seabed to make it stable but although it stands on a base of stones strengthened at sea level with stakes it actually stands under it own weight, all 60 tonnes of it. It’s built from naturally grown cedar trees with cyprus thatching on the roof which also encloses about 7 tonnes of stones to assist in keeping it balanced. It all sounds a bit precarious it you didn’t know that it had stood in its various forms for so many centuries.
There are loads of white tail deer around the island, you’ll see them outside the ferry terminal when you first arrive and we’ve seen them way up the top of Mt Misen. Whether you love them or avoid them they do mostly congregate where there the people are. Those big eyes are great for manipulating treats out of unsuspecting visitors. Perhaps because we don’t feed them we’ve not had an issue with the deer anywhere in Japan but we have seen them pestering some people and they can be a bit mischievous having a nibble on the odd handbag or attempting to share a snack.
This mum with two fawn followed us up to Daisho-in temple, they are extremely cute and I personally love to see them here. The island has plenty of natural shrubbery for them to eat a little way out of town so they don’t need to eat human food and in the long run it can’t be good for them.
Omotosando Shopping Street
The shopping street between the ferry terminal and the shrine is a popular spot for buying souvenirs (omiyage), having a meal or picking up a snack. There’s even a little spa where you can have a fish nibbling pedicure if you’ve been meaning to try this unique treatment.
The island takes its name because of this shrine. Originally named Itsukushima the same as the shrine and subsequently Miyajima which literally means Shrine Island. The floating torii was the entrance gate for this shrine, once accessed by boat directly to the shrines own pier. The shrines spirituality is intense, even crowded with people so it’s not surprising that the island has been recognised as a spiritual place for so long. The shrine was believed to have been first founded in 593 although the first documented record isn’t until 811 and the basis of the current design dates back to 1168.
The complex consists of several halls and shrines interconnected by lantern lit corridors, the entire shrine standing on pillars above the tide. If you have the opportunity it looks stunning lit in the evening although you can’t enter it after dark. The stone lanterns on the far side and the torii are also lit up at night until 11pm.
5 Story Pagoda
The tall vermilion pagoda on the hill high above Itsukushima Shrine is part of Toyokuni Shrine and is called Goju-no-to. It was built in 1407 and restored in 1533, it’s current glossy lacquer applied as part of a subsequent restoration in its original style in 1945 to further protect it from the elements. The pagoda enshrines the Medicine Buddha along with Buddhist saints Fugen and Monju who are more commonly depicted as a triad with Shaka (Shakamuni) the historical Buddha.
You aren’t able to enter the pagoda but the Hall of 1000 tatami mats is open. It has a interesting history that intertwines Buddhism and Shintoism. It was commissioned in 1587 to a a Buddhist library for the chanting of sutras and dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi one of Japans 3 great unifiers. Construction was halted when Hideyoshi died 11 years later and it stands partly completed today a mix of grandeur and abandonment. Originally Amida was enshrined in the Buddhist alter but since the Meiji period it has been used exclusively in Shinto rituals. It’s the largest structure on the Island.
I really enjoy this temple which wears its very long history with an element of modern kawaii culture. Daisho-in is said to have been founded by the monk Kukai (posthumously Kobo Daishi) back in 806 when he visited the island. Its many halls and treasures reflect its long history and importance to both the people and historic imperial rulers of Japan.
If you’re planning to stop in here you can read more on our post on Daisho-in temple.
Whether you use the ropeway (mentioned below) or climb it yourself Mt Misen is definitely worth making time for. Primordial forest, giant boulders, ancient temples, incredible views and its own legends there’s something here to interest everyone.
If you’re going to explore the mountain get the extra information you need from our post on the stunning Mt Misen
If you have the time the rope way up Mt Misen is well worth the trip. There’s a bit of luck involved in picking the right day to go, the views would be stunning on a clear sunny day, especially in winter when you don’t get the heat haze. Unfortunately we haven’t hit the perfect weather but still enjoy the view both from the ropeway itself and from the top. If you are able to make the walk I recommend continuing on to the top, make sure you take a drink and have shoes suitable for walking a smooth dirt track.
The hours vary slightly by season but it runs at least 9am to 5pm. An adult fare is Y1800 return or Y1000 for one way. If you want to walk there are some track options covered in our Mt Misen article linked above. From the base station (Momijidani) you take these smaller cars to the mid station (Kayatani) then switch to larger cars for the final stretch to the top station (Shishiiwa).
Celebrate the Seasons
With it’s huge numbers of maples and broad leaf trees Miyajima Island is incredibly popular as a koyo or autumn leaves viewing spot with much of the island decked out with the jewel coloured leaves and seasonal delicacies. In springtime it’s equally popular for it’s many cherry blossom trees and it’s definitely a stunning view as you approach on the boat when you see the island behind the shrine covered in sakura bloom. That doesn’t mean there is nothing going on the rest of the year though. Winter brings big juicy local oysters, roasted chestnuts and often clear skys and the best views plus Setsubun one of my favourite festivals is really big on Miyajima. Summer sees Itsukushima Shrines most important festival of the year take place, like many spots in Japan it’s the season of fireworks and sea bathing becomes popular to offset the heat and humidity.
Eat the local specialties
If you’ve been on this site before you know that food is a huge part of our travel experience and we love to try out the local specialties. Miyajima Island might be the perfect place for this as the specialties will appeal to a wide range of tastes. Firstly the area is well known for its oysters, you will probably spot some of the oyster beds in the bay off in the distance from the ferry on the way across. These oysters are served in various forms at many of the restaurants in the shopping street on the island, you can even get some freshly shucked and grilled as a snack as you pass through.
The other specialty is a form of Japanese sweet. It’s called momiji manjyu and is a small cake in the shape of the maple leaf (momiji) traditionally filled with sweet red azuki bean paste. While the original form are delicious there are lots of other varieties, the matcha was delicious! You can buy a few for a snack but these will keep a while and are beautifully presented so they’re a popular souvenir or gift. Giving a gift to colleagues, family and friends when you return from a holiday is a custom called omiyage in Japan and momiji manjyu were a popular choice.
Miyajima Island Visitor Information
Miyajima is a 30 minute (Y410) train trip on the Sanyo line from Hiroshima station. Get off the train at Miyajimaguchi and cross the road to the ferry stop. The JR ferry takes 10 minutes to make the crossing and costs Y180. If you are using the JR pass both the train and ferry are included in that.
If you are coming from further afield Hiroshima is about 2 hours from Kyoto or 1 hour 40 minutes from Osaka using bullet trains under the JR Pass, slightly faster if using Nozomi options.
Fees and Charges
There are no fees to access the island but some shrine and temple buildings have a small entry fee / donation.
There are public toilets on the island and spaces to enjoy a picnic. There are also a range of restaurants and places to buy snacks and drinks mostly located in the Omotosando shopping street.
If you’ve been to Miyajima Island what was your favourite part, if you’re planning on visiting what are you most interested in seeing?