24 Hours of Miyajima

In the morning, we had the breakfast buffet at the RIHGA. The food was an odd mix of Japanese and Western breakfast foods, which was basically what I remember from my previous trips here. Japanese hotels have no shortage of buffet-style meals, it seems.

We checked out of the hotel (bye, RIHGA) and walked 5-10 minutes to Peace Park again, where a “Pleasure Boat” would take us to Miyajima. I’m not quite sure why the English translation was “Pleasure Boat,” when it was really just a little speed boat with no apparent frills. In the beginning of the ride, while the boat was still exiting the Hiroshima area, passengers were allowed to go outside and take pictures. People lined up to take pictures of themselves on the boat and then quickly went back inside because it was really cold. After a 45 minute ride, we were in Miyajima!

Miyajima is a little tourist island full of shrines and temples and shops selling treats and charms and other Things You Don’t Need. Everything is all clustered together, making it a great place for a day trip. Hayden and I would be staying one night in Miyajima, though, because I never had stayed before and thought it would be a good idea. We dropped off our luggage at our hotel, Sakuraya, which was conveniently located just a block away from the port. Tonight, we would be sleeping Japanese-style, on mats on the floor.

There are also a bunch of friendly, fearless deer in Miyajima. I don’t know why they’re there, but they have taken to trolling the streets of Miyajima, weaving between people and looking for snacks. The first thing we did was pet the deer. I also attempted to walk a deer. Then we saw a big cluster of deer (a herd?) steal a paper bag of baked goods from a man and then proceed to wrestle amongst themselves over the pastry. A baby deer sat patiently to the side of the throng. Aww.

Then, of course, there’s the big red-orange torii arch, Itsukushima Shrine, that everyone loves to take the tourist shot with. Hayden wanted one and I obliged. We paid the small admission fee to walk around the covered wooden pathways near the shrine, which I remember well from my previous trip there. The pathways are raised so that, in high tide, the water surrounds the area but you can still walk around. It looks like an old, forgotten paradise to me. Hayden noted that, even though Miyajima is a heavily touristy location, it’s still very peaceful because the (mostly Japanese) visitors are all quiet and respectful. The loudest people on the entire island were two Westerners (not us, I swear!) who wouldn’t stop yapping about their social lives.

Following Itsukushima Shrine, the highlight of Miyajima, we wandered around the island and looked at more shrines and temples. Every temple seemed to have a shop beside it selling good luck charms and other keychains. One of the bigger temples was Daijo-in Temple, which we walked up a huge flight of stone steps to reach. At the base of Daijo-in Temple, there was a tiny restaurant (though I’m not sure it qualifies as a restaurant) advertising a menu of soba and tea. The place really was tiny. Hayden and I ordered “two soba” for lunch and ate peacefully in the quiet, empty “restaurant.”

After lunch, we went on a short hike in regular clothes (was uncomfortable, do not recommend) to the top of Mount Misen, the highest point in elevation on the island. The hike was a 1.5 hour walk up a neverending series of stone steps. There were many signs warning about “Japanese Viper — do not touch or poke with sticks,” but we didn’t see any snakes so that was good. We reached the observatory at the top, where we could see the entirety of the island from above. I was a little tired of hiking in jeans and glorified slippers, so we took the ropeway back down. The ropeway has the cutest little cars, sized for tiny Japanese people. Aww.

We browsed the Miyajima shopping area and I remembered other “must-do” items in Miyajima, like eating one of the widely sold maple treats, which are a maple leaf-shaped pancake-type bread filled with goo. They taste a lot better than my description makes it sound. Nearly every food-related store in Miyajima sells them, and many places show them being made in this adorable automated process wherein little maple treats are popped out, two by two. I told Hayden to try one and instead he got two, and later bought an entire box of assorted flavors. Hayden likes snacks.
There is also a giant rice scoop on display in the shopping alley. I remembered that everyone in my previous tour groups had taken a tourist picture with the rice scoop, so I made Hayden do it for the sake of Tourism.

We checked in to the hotel and found our Japanese-style room was all ready for us with our beds made. In Japanese-style rooms, you have to take off your shoes in the entryway and change to slippers in the room. Though Hayden enjoys the socks-and-slippers (old man) combination, he had trouble with the order of operations involved in leaving the room, and ended up putting his shoes on too early and crawling on hands and knees to retrieve his camera on the coffee table. A real Japanese experience!

After the sun had set, we went back to Itsukushima Shrine to take photos of it all lit up at night. It was now low tide, so people could walk right up to the shrine, which had been surrounded by water just earlier that afternoon. I got some cool long-exposure shots of the shrine and the surrounding area, and then we went in search of dinner.

Miyajima is, as I said, a great place for a day trip, meaning that most restaurants close after all the tourists leave on the last ferry ride home. Our hotel had given us a sheet listing the handful of restaurants that remained open for dinner, so we wandered around a quiet Miyajima looking for places using a cartoonish map. My ability to read Hiragana came in handy and we were able to locate a restaurant on the map that only advertised itself in Japanese. It had been Thanksgiving back home today, and we had udon, curry, and katsu to celebrate the American holiday.

We slept well in our Japanese-style beds. In the morning, we left Sakuraya in search of breakfast. Miyajima doesn’t really have many breakfast options either (more of a lunch place), since all the tourists haven’t yet arrived, so we wandered around looking for an open restaurant. We ended up finding the perfect bakery and cafe in the shopping alley. It was the cutest place with cute little pastries and sold food for very low prices.
On our way out of the hotel, the hotel staff members were bowing their heads and thanking us, which are common gestures throughout Japan. Hayden noted that it’s so nice that everyone does that, and that everyone should do that! We joked that the only thing missing from Japan’s polite culture was Hayden’s trademarked thumbs-up.

In the end, I was really glad we had stayed the night in Miyajima. It had allowed us to see nearly everything! We had a long day of transportation to Shodoshima ahead of us, and we were hoping that everything would go smoothly and we wouldn’t get lost.


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