• 30 . 12 . 04
  • An excursion from Hiroshima takes us to Miyajima, a holy island just off the coast.

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The Deer Island God

The museum at Hiroshima was closed because it’s so close to New Year, but this was really a blessing in disguise as it freed up the afternoon to do something a little more uplifting. Hiroshima is very close to the coast (in fact it’s basically a city built on a group of interconnected islands in the river delta) and is only about an hour away from Miyajima, a very famous island in Japan.

I had heard that the island was a holy place, forbidden for commoners to enter until the Meiji Restoration. It’s not unusual for people to worship nature, as the Japanese revere Mt. Fuji, for example. I had in fact slightly misunderstood though. It turned out that the entire island was/is believed to be a god. How could you get close enough to the island to worship it, without stepping foot on it? The solution: the Itsukushima Shrine, a huge wooden complex built on piers that spread out across the bay. You could visit the island for all your spiritual needs without desecrating it by actually touching it. Genius. Commoners could gain entry to the shrine only by taking a boat that passed through the famous Torii standing a little way out in the bay. At high tide the gate appears to float on the water and it’s considered one of the best three views in Japan.

Luckily, entry is not so difficult now. Regular ferries carry thousands of visitors every day for the bargain price of a few hundred yen and the promise to wipe your feet before you arrive. With tourists, of course, comes tourism and Miyajima has now turned into a kind of entertainment island. Downtown has all the usual tourist trap shops and there are a couple of astronomically priced hotels for those who wanted to stay longer. But for me at least, the island still retained a relaxed and relaxing atmosphere. The first job was to feed the deer, which the island is full of. They wander around all over the place and like being petted and fed. You can buy Miyajima deer food for a few hundred yen and ensure a visit from Rudolph for this year at least. Too bad I came here after Christmas, then.

Itsukushima shrine itself was great; a long and winding boardwalk takes you into the heart of the shrine and to the floating Noh stage. The shrine was recently very nearly destroyed by Typhoon #18 in September and work is still ongoing to restore its former splendour. Unfortunately we were there at low tide, so you could see the mudplains and the posts sunken into the ground. Going there at high tide apparently gives you the feeling of walking on water, but it was still cool and I can see why it has been made a World Heritage Site.

After Hiroshima this morning it was nice to be in a place where you could enjoy the sites without guilt. The fact that the sun came out and the day turned warm was a big bonus and made an even bigger contrast with the morning.

So, a day of history, culture, reflection and good food. I remember now why I never want to stop seeing the world. Again, if you get the chance to come out here, you really should as it’s a nice escape from the city life.

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