Sunday, September 14, 2008

Miyajima Island (宮島)

About half an hour or so from the center of Hiroshima by train,  lies Miyajimaguchi (宮島口) or literally "Entrance to Miyojima". This is basically a port town which seems to have a single important reason for its existence - it is home to two ports (one operated by JR - Japanese Railways, the other by the company that operates the trams in Hiroshima) which have ferries every 15-30 minutes to the wonderful little island of Miyajima.

P9070098The ferry takes about 15-20 minutes but the view is pretty and you get a preview of the island's coastline and forest, as well as the artificial "pools" that are basically used for fish farming. Of course, also visible is the island's shrine that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The island is anything but flat so it makes a good place for climbers/hikers too and this is pretty clear on the ferry trip. Oh and a quick tip - the right side of the ferry gets a much much better view ;)

P9070116 Now before we got there I was told that there were deer on the island and of course my first thought was that the deer would be on the mountains and one could see them on a lucky hiking trip. As soon as we got off the ship though things turned out to be quite different: the deer basically welcome you to the island right in front of the port building. There were literally at least 10 - 2o of them walking around, greeting the tourists - both the Japanese and non-Japanese types. They seemed to be on the thinner side and eagerly followed anyone who had any type of food they would be interested in, including little information booklets or any piece of paper for that matter.

P9070121 Being an island, Miyajima has access to really fresh seafood and this is pretty evident in all the little restaurants dotting the path around the island (there IS a road for cars but it is mostly paved walkways). The main delicacy seemed to be oysters (both raw and cooked) but seafood in general is king at the restaurants. There are also little stores selling T-shirts and little souvenirs but the most famous souvenir, or Omiyage (おみやげ) as they put it around here, is a variety of "manju" (bean paste filled pastry in the shape of a kind of a maple leaf - symbol of Hiroshima). The machines they use to make these things are huge and pretty impressive - they are usually put right in front of the store for all potential customers to see the process but usually with a sign saying taking pictures is prohibited.

The walkway which starts at the port, ends at the shrine which is one of the biggest reasons why people visit the island. The shrine itself is big and nice looking but the highlight is its big red gate that seems to "float" on the water during high tide. Unfortunately the weather was not great which made taking a good picture difficult but I tried my best. Here is a panorama I made - I am keeping it at a bit higher resolution too for detail (click for the bigger version as always).

Panorama view of Miyajima Shrine Gate

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