Miyajima Island is definitely a must for any first time Japan trip, then again it's a must for ANY Japan trip! Imagine, you hope on the ferry from Hiroshima ferry pier and within 15 mins you've got those famous big orange Torii Gates welcoming visitors to the island.
Miyajima or Itsukushima (meaning Shrine Island) is a small Island located in Hiroshima Bay best known for the giant Torii Gates mentioned above as well as the beautiful and brightly coloured Itsukushima Shrine and five tiered pagoda. Deer and Monkeys also roam freely on the island, they aren't as bold as the deer in Nara but we will talk more about that in later blogs. The Island can be reached via an hour train ride or roughly a 15 min ferry ride. My suggestion would be the ferry for lovely view of Hiroshima Bay.
From Hiroshima Station you can take the JR Sanyo Line to Miyajimaguchi Station which is about a 25 min trip that'll cost 410yen one way but is covered by your Japan Rail Pass.
Once you've arrived at Miyajimaguchi Station the ferry pier is a short walk where ferries depart quite frequently for the Island. There's two ferry services to chose from, JR and Matsudai, both take the same amount of time and cost 180yen each way but keep in mind your Japan Rail Pass is only valid on the JR ferries.
To give you an idea I've included the timetable for the JR Ferry here.
Alternatively from Central Hiroshima you can take tram number 2 to Miyajimaguchi, it's slower than the option above but it only costs 260yen one way (not covered by the Japan Rail Pass).
After walking through the shrine you'll find small streets lined with food stalls and gift shops where you can buy lots of Miyajima souviners. Two things to keep an eye out for is specialty flavored kit-kats and Momiji Manju, maple leaf shaped sweets which are filled with bean jam, cream cheese, green tea, chocolate and my personal favorite custard cream. If you're lucky you'll be able to purchase single momiji manju that have just been made and are still warm! Once you've found one you like you can purchase beautifully wrapped boxes of them to take home to your friends and family... unless you're not a good sharer like me and eat them all to yourself!
Next you can take the Miyajima Ropeway, located 10 mins walk from the Itsukushima Shrine, up to the top of Mount Misen. There's a few hiking trails from the town to the mountain summit as well but I preferred to spend the time it would take to hike by visiting other sights as each time I've visited the island I've only had the one day to explore. That and I'm lazy, there I admitted it! In saying that though once you're at the top of the ropeway there's still a decent walk to the peak but if you are happy to miss that there is the Shishi-iwa Observatory that you can stay at. At the top of Mount Misen on a clear day you'll get an incredible view of the Seto Inland Sea and maybe even as far as Hiroshima City. It's much rarer these days due to the population growing and causing a few problems but when walking around the top you might even see some wild monkeys.
Back in the street area of the Island you'll find lost of traditional places to have lunch. The place I went to you took your shoes off at the door and could sit on either of the two levels, can I suggest you either wear shoes that you wear socks with or pack a pair of socks to put on in there situations. It's actually kind of embarrassing having your toes out in a restaurant (or temple) while everyone else has socks on and looking down at your feet *insert sweaty/nervous emoji here*.
In these restaurants you'll find different dishes but most of them will be seafood based. I'm really not a seafood fan but I will eat fish from the fish and chip shop (that counts right?) so I decided that I would just order something that stood out to me on the menu and give it a go. When you're in a country who's food varies so greatly from your own you need to try get passed the idea that it's different and dig in, nine times out of ten I really enjoy what I've picked. So another suggestion is if possible try an eel dish, it's surprisingly delicious!
Lastly before the ferry ride home walk off that delicious lunch by visiting the five tiered pagoda. There's signage to point you in the right direction but also just look for the 5 tiered building, I promise you can't miss it. Built in the 1400s this brightly coloured sky skimming masterpiece is a sight to behold no matter where you view it from.
At the Pagoda you'll get another cool view of the Torri Gates and Itsukushima Shrine from above. Just next to the Pagoda is the Senjokaku Shrine which you can walk inside but once again you must take off your shoes. Not only does this refer back to having your toes out while most people around you are in socks but imagine in the colder months how cold that floor is going to be...
After reading this hopefully I’ve convinced you to step away from the fast paced side of Japan and spend some time taking in one of many peaceful and serene sides.