Today I woke up early for trip I was very excited about. Today I would be heading to Hiroshima and the legendary island of Miyajima. This was the home of perhaps Japan’s most famous landmarks: the great Torii gate.
This would be my most ambitious day trip yet, as the Shinkansen would be about 2 hours and 10,000 yen each way. Luckily, I got the trains for free with my JR pass, so this was a done deal. A big train ride called for a big breakfast, so I made sure to stop by the 7 eleven and pick up 2 bags of edamame, 5 bananas and 4 onigiris. This sounds like the breakfast of someone on-the-run but it was actually a delicious meal and one of the things I will miss most about my trip to Japan.
I ate my breakfast on the train and took in the beautiful surrounding landscape. What surprised me most about Japan was how industrial it was here. I thought that once you got outside of Tokyo it would be mostly countryside with little urbanized pockets along the way. To my surprise, southern Honshu basically felt like one big city. Tokyo is connected to Yokohama, which soon becomes Shizuoka and Nagoya and then that is basically connected to Kyoto/Osaka and then Kobe is right around the corner. There were a few places west of there that felt less developed, but in general you were always in view of some major buildings. It feels just like taking a train from New York to D.C. The rural pockets are few and far in-between.
Eventually we arrived in Hiroshima. Although it was a formidable city, it still was a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Kansai. I really liked the vibe here. Because it was right on the Ocean, it had the feeling of a small fishing city. Off the coast of Hiroshima were Oyster farms, something I never had seen before. This city takes great pride in their oysters and it is considered one of the signature foods of this area. Although I wish the signature food was something a little less disgusting, I was happy to appreciate the fact that other people enjoyed them and that they probably aren’t as bad for the environment as fishing.
The ferry to Miyajima or Itsukushima Island is free if you have the JR pass. Not only does JR give you access to pretty much half of the major train lines, you also get little random perks like this thrown in. If you don’t have the pass, it is like 200 yen to get to the island. Probably the best 200 yen you will ever spend considering this magical place is the experience of a lifetime.
The ferry ride over to the island was beautiful. I sat on the upper deck of the ship and really enjoyed the scenery. The coolest thing about this ride is that because the Torii gate is so big, you can actually see it from Hiroshima. That means you can get great views of it while you are pulling into the island. As you get closer, you will also begin to notice smaller temples and a beautiful Pagoda. This may be the places that attract the most people, but it is only a small fraction of all there is to do on Miyajima.
When I got to the island, I started to look for a place to escape the crowds of tourists and maybe have a quick meditation. I wandered up a small narrow path and saw an older woman at the top of the hill in a small hut playing the flute. She noticed me coming up the hill and stopped. “Dozo” I said (go ahead). She laughed and continued to play. I sat at a nearby bench and began to look out and focus on my breathing. Right before I closed my eyes, I noticed a small school down the hill. Students were gathered outside of the school before it started, a practice I had seen once before at a school in Thailand. This was tucked away from the temples and markets and if I hadn’t come up here, I never would’ve known about it.
Just then, the woman came over to me with a cup of coffee in her hand. She asked me where I was from and I used all the Japanese I could in order to talk with her for a minute or two. A few minutes later, she shared a Japanese dessert with me. This was the nicest stranger I had ever met. It doesn’t even feel right to call her a stranger. When I returned from my trip to Japan, many people asked me if the Japanese were “nice”. I think by that they meant “polite” and not rude. I would tell them that I had been to many countries where people were “nice”, but this is the first country I had been to where nearly everyone I met was truly kind. They have a deep respect for others, and these little acts of kindness are genuine to who they are as people.
I bowed to her, thanked her for everything and sat in silence for a minute or two. This is where it hit me that I was truly in a magical place. After a long meditation, I headed down the narrow pathway. It was so quiet up here, you really felt like you were in a deep forest. Just then, I heard a rustling coming up the steps. I thought someone else had discovered this amazing spot but it was actually just two wild deer, peacefully wandering through the forest. This was incredible!
I took a little while to walk through the main market. Although it was definitely fall weather in this region, this island had a warm, almost tropical feel to it. The sun was shining, the waves were crashing off shore and there were open air markets selling things you might expect to find somewhere in the Caribbean, like oysters and hand carved wood sculptures.
The street market opened up to a beautiful temple complex with wild deer all around. Here is also where you can see the famous Torii gate. This was incredible to see, but a lot different than I was expecting. First of all, rather than being a red gate like many of the others throughout Japan, this was more of an orange color. If you look at pictures online, it looks like it is a bright crimson, but I can assure you that in real life it is orange.
The other thing that was surprising was that rather than being comprised of two perfectly cylindrical pillars, the main pillars are actually quite misshapen. This makes sense because at the time it was probably difficult to shape wood on that scale so they probably just used larger trees as the posts. I think this only added to the cool factor. It’s nice to see this beautiful monument up close and marvel at how difficult it must’ve been to build it. Seeing this gate off-shore was perhaps one of the most beautiful scenes of my entire trip!
I grabbed a quick lunch and decided that I wanted to climb a mountain today.
Many of the tourists that come to Miyajima climb Mount Misen, a small mountain half a Kilometer above sea level. I told myself I would see how I was feeling once I got there and so far I was having such an amazing time, I really wanted to keep the energy going. I would soon learn that this was a more challenging feat than I had imagined, but I was so glad I did it.