You may not recognize this small island by the name we have referred to it with since this Japanese gem is sometimes called Itsukushima. The name Miyajima means’ Shrine island’ which comes from a shrine that was gifted to the area by an ancient warrior-courtier.
Located in the Hiroshima prefecture, Miyajima is one of the most well-loved day excursions for tourists to the neighboring city. Not only is it very easily accessible, but it is also filled with beautiful scenery and fun things to see and do.
If you’re planning a day trip to Miyajima, there is a lot to pack in, and in this guide, I will be detailing some of the best things for tourists to this sensational little island.
A Little Bit About Miyajima
Miyajima is located in the inland sea of Japan and is protected by a national park status – the Sentonaikai national park. This is evident when we see the natural beauty of this location, and it comes as no surprise that both tourists and locals from the more massive Japanese island of Honshu are drawn here for the tranquility. Many of the Honshu tourists come here for prayer and reflection. It is seen by some as a highly spiritual place.
This is a volcanic island and whilst it isn’t very large, it welcomes more than 4 million tourists every year.
As I mentioned earlier on, the name Miyajima comes from the Japanese meaning of Shrine Island. Not only is there the story of the warrior-courtier who gifted a beautiful shrine to the island, but there are several other notable shrines and temples which bring in many visitors every year.
The island is also renowned for the wealth of cherry trees that can be found growing along the upper hills – you won’t get much more Japanese than that, so if you’re looking to experience the things that this great nation is famed for, Miyajima is a great place to do so.
The island is tiny, at just 30 square kilometers, and is home to only 2000 people. Unlike some of Japan’s busier areas, Miyajima is made up of small towns rather than a city and boasts many small boutiques and privately-owned stores.
The locals here are incredibly proud of their small island home, and there is a great sense of this when you learn how each of them plays an important role in maintaining the woodland and nature that can be found here.
What To Do On A Day Trip To Miyajima?
One of the most popular day trips departing from the island of Honshu, Miyajima, is worth the short journey.
How To Get To Miyajima
If you are staying in the nearby city of Hiroshima, there are plenty of opportunities to get to Miyajima, with trains leaving the station here as frequently as every 15 minutes. These trains will take you to Miyajimaguchi station, where a ferry can be accessed via a 2-minute walk.
While the train journey usually takes just less than half an hour, the ferry ride is only 10 minutes, making the island perfect for a day trip.
But what’s even more impressive is that you really are getting a full day here since the earliest ferry departs at 6.25 am, and the final one of the evening will wait around until 10.14 pm. Not only is this useful for people who want to get the most out of their day on Miyajima, but taking the crossing at the two extremes of the day will give you some very varied photo opportunities.
One of the first things that you will see upon arriving at the island is the Itsukushima shrine gate, which paves the way to a traditional Shinto shrine and, at high tide, appears to float on the water. The shrine is one of the UNESCO world heritage sites and one of the island’s major attractions. The Japanese government has listed many of the areas of the shrine as national treasures, so it isn’t difficult to see the importance of this site to the culture and the country.
While the gate floats at high tide, low tide allows guests the chance to walk right up and have a photo taken up against it. You will find information of the tides around the island giving you the opportunity to plan your day around seeing the gate at both points. The shrine and gate are considered to be one of the three best views in Japan and an absolute must-see for visitors to Miyajima.
Along the side of the river sits the breathtaking Momijidani park, another of the islands most well-recognized attractions. This beautiful, tranquil location is home to more than 200 maple trees and the perfect place for a morning stroll.
There are numerous secluded spots for quiet reflection or you could get up close and personal with the many deer that call this area home.
It is well known that Miyajima has a lot of deer and thanks to the excellent amount of human interactions they have experienced, have now become quite friendly. If you’re an animal lover, meeting a deer in Momijidani park will truly be a moment to remember.
The Miyajima Ropeway
One of the things that Miyajima is famed for is the magnificent Mount Misen peak, located very slightly inland from where the Itsukushima Shrine lies.
If you’ve got more than just a day to explore, it’s highly recommended that you take the short trek to the top of the mountain and appreciate the view in full. However, for a day trip to Miyajima, the ropeway is an excellent alternative.
The short 10-minute ride along the cable car track is widely advertised as being comparable to walking on air, and they’re not exaggerating. Until you have experienced scenery like this, it is difficult to put into words.
Views in one direction will expose you to the lush, green forests that cover the island whilst looking out the other way will give you spectacular views across the inland sea, making a perfect contrast.
Once at the top, you can revel in the view and take a walk around the mountain. As I mentioned, to get to the summit of the peak, a trek is required and whilst it does only take around 30 minutes, if you want to pack more into your day, this might be better left to a lengthier visit. However, a short walk from the ropeway is the observatory where you will find some handy amenities and views that are truly astonishing.
With Miyajima being most famous for its shrines and temples, it would be outrageous to leave out this incredible complex that houses various statues and temples at the base of the mountain. This is the perfect stop off after coming back down the mountain and offers a tranquil and spiritual place that is filled with history.
Visiting in the fall months will allow you to get the full experience of the color changing trees and the gentle sea breeze, and whilst any time of year is great for visiting Miyajima, I’d definitely have to recommend coming during the autumn if you can.
But one of the most notable features of the shrine is the flame which is believed to have been burning, continually from the day it was first ignited when the temple was built in the 9th century!
Near the Dasho-in temple is the stunning Shiraito falls. Whilst this is a small waterfall, it’s definitely one of the sights on the island that you must see.
During the hotter months, the waterfall will not gush as much as other times of the year but it’s still worth a visit. It is worth keeping in mind that this is seen as a sacred area so while the pool at the base of the falls does look appealing, especially on a warm day, taking a dip is highly frowned upon.
After your trek back down the mountain, you’re bound to be ready for a bite to eat and along the coastline, you will find a variety of great places to eat and drink. However, one of my favorites has to be the quaint little Japanese eatery known as Yamatoya.
The restaurant is slightly off the beaten track and perhaps lesser known by the tourists so will likely give you a more relaxed and peaceful lunch than other places like the island’s Starbucks branch.
You will find a vast array of Japanese foods here including the world famous Udon Noodles and some very interesting eel dishes.
The staff here are extremely friendly and you can be sure to get that world-renowned warm Japanese welcome.
One thing that you should keep in mind is that the restaurant does not take credit card payments so be sure to have some cash to hand.
Miyajima Public Aquarium
A lot of aquariums are very sizable and take a large chunk of the day to explore, however the one on Miyajima is much smaller so easily fits into a day trip. But that isn’t to say that it doesn’t have some interesting things to see.
Two of the most notable inhabitants of the aquarium are the whales and penguins, the latter of which feature in an interactive show where the children in the audience can gently pet them. Other great family events that run daily include seal shows, otter feeding and fish touching to name a few.
The aquarium is open until 4 pm each day so it is worth planning your visit with this in mind despite its small size, you’ll likely want a decent amount of time to look around.
Japan is not a country that is often associated with beaches and oceanside vacations but there are, in fact, many beautiful beaches and the ones that you will find on Miyajima are particularly breathtaking.
Away from the ferry ports and the major tourist attractions of the island, you will find the gorgeous Tsutsumigaura beach which is so incredibly pretty that you would be forgiven for thinking that you were on a tropical island in the middle of the South Pacific.
During the height of summer, the beach usually gets a little busier but since it is largely out of the way, you will find it much quieter than other areas on Miyajima. However, if you want some private peace and quiet, visiting during early autumn sees many tourists having the beach completely to themselves.
Tsutsumigaura Nature Park
While you’re on this more secluded side of the island, the nature park is a must-see. This is one of the best places for spotting deer on the island and also features some stunning walks and opportunities to interact with nature.
If you’re here for more than a day, the nature park is home to a very highly acclaimed camping site that provides you with the perfect backdrop for an evening under the stars.
Thought to be one of the three most beautiful places in Japan, Miyajima attracts a staggering number of people to its shores every year.
There are plenty of opportunities to explore the island for more than a day but most visitors opt for a day trip to Miyajima whilst on a longer trip exploring Japan. During this time, there are many activities to take part in.
The island is a highly spiritual place, much like many areas of Eastern Asia and as such, you will notice that there are many shrines in the area – most notably the Itsukushima shrine with its floating gate – one of the major draws of the island.
Aside from this, there is a wealth of stunning nature spots, great places to eat and beaches that easily rival some of the more famous ones in the world. In short, Miyajima is the perfect day excursion.