No nasty flu germs and no amount of rain are going to stop the little bears from having another adventure. They are ready for anything!
First they hoped on tram no 2 from the center of Hiroshima to Miyajimaguchi…
…then they took the ferry from Miyajimaguchi to Miyajima Pier.
And as always, they arrived at destination as fresh as, in this case, an orchid!
The first stop was a bakery for some momijimanju.
Momijimanju are cakes baked in the shape of maple leaves with a filling of sweet red bean paste. The famous dessert was created in Miyajima in the early 1900s as a local specialty to represent Momijidani, a popular maple leaf viewing spot. They used to be handmade one by one, but have been machine-made since the advent of momijimanju machines.
These days, momijimanju can be found with many different fillings such as matcha tea, cheese, custard and chocolate. We got the chocolate 🙂 They are sold at many shops on the island, and in Hiroshima, this is the beary friendly bakery we visited.
Miyajima Island has long been considered one of the top three scenic spots in all of Japan and boasts more tourists each year than Disneyland. But not today!
This is what we were supposed to see…
This is what we did see! Unfortunately we had a rainy day, and the rain did not let up all day.
Itsukushima is an island in the western part of the Inland Sea of Japan, located in the northwest of Hiroshima Bay. It is popularly known as Miyajima, which in Japanese means the Shrine Island. Itsukushima is famous for the Itsukushima Shrine, a Shinto shrine and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and best known for its “floating” torii gate. The torii appears to be floating only at high tide. When the tide is low, it is approachable by foot from the island. Gathering shellfish near the gate is also popular at low tide. Many locals add the shellfish they gather to their miso soup. At night, powerful lights on the shore illuminate the torii.
According to records, the shrine was established in the time of Empress Suiko in 593, but the island is said to have been considered sacred even before that. Because the island itself has been considered sacred, commoners were not allowed to set foot on it throughout much of its history to maintain its purity. To allow pilgrims to approach, the shrine was built like a pier over the water, so that it appeared to float, separate from the land. The red entrance gate, or torii, was built over the water for much the same reason. Commoners had to steer their boats through the torii before approaching the shrine and did not set foot on the island itself.
The shrine has been destroyed many times. Taira no Kiyomori re-established the shrine in the 12th century, having it built in the shinden zukuri style of Heian period aristocratic mansions. It is said that Kiyomori took great pride in the shrine, donating extensive funds to it and showing it off to a great number of friends and noble personages.
In 1554, the shrine and other areas of Miyajima Island were the site of the battle of Miyajima, fought between Sue Harukata and Môri Motonari. Following the battle, the shrine was rebuilt in 1556, following the earlier design from the 12th century.
The shrine is organized around two structures – the honden and haiden – which extend out over the water. The shrine is composed of a main shrine, where the girls watched the ritual under way…
…a Noh drama stage, music rooms, halls and several other shrines arranged around it. All these structures are connected by corridors with the total length of about 300m. The vermillion colour of the shrine and the O-torii gate is considered to keep evil spirits away. The shrine buildings are coated with vermillion lacquer, which is also efficient as protection from corrosion.
The Noh stage is said to be, perhaps, the oldest in the world. The two main buildings, and the dance platform, located one in front of the other, face out over the water, forming a direct line with the torii.
A secondary shrine, with its own honden and haiden arranged similarly, sits to the east of the main shrine, facing perpendicularly across the face of the main shrine; this maro-do jinja is dedicated to a number of male guest deities, while the main shrine is dedicated to female deities, namely, three daughters of Susano-o no Mikoto, Shinto god of seas and storms, and brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu. The three goddesses are worshipped as deities of sea, traffic safety, fortune and accomplishment.
Weddings are occasionally held at the shrine, but that doesn’t bar visitors, and the priest’s ceremonial dance is a memorable sight, one that we missed.
The dramatic gate of Itsukushima Shrine is one of Japan’s most popular tourist attractions, and the most recognizable and celebrated feature of the Itsukushima shrine, and the view of the gate in front of the island’s Mount Misen is classified as one of the Three Views of Japan (along with the sand bar Amanohashidate, and Matsushima Bay). Although a gate has been in place since 1168, the current gate dates back only to 1875. The gate, built of decay-resistant camphor wood, is about 16 metres high. The placement of an additional leg in front of and behind each main pillar identifies the torii as reflecting the style of Ryōbu Shintō (dual Shinto), a medieval school of esoteric Japanese Buddhism associated with the Shingon Sect.
Not happy with this photo, the bears shrunk the gate and brought it onshore for a better photo opportunity… What do you mean you wanted to see the gate in its original location?
Retaining the purity of the shrine is so important that since 1878, no deaths or births have been permitted near it. To this day, pregnant women are supposed to retreat to the mainland as the day of delivery approaches, as are the terminally ill or the very elderly whose passing has become imminent. Burials on the island are forbidden.
From the Itsukushima Shrine we went to the Treasure Hall which was built in 1934 to house the numerous treasures and documents of the Itsukushima Shrine. The shrine’s treasures include the Heike Nôkyô (a set of 32 scrolls of sutras copied onto lavishly decorated paper by Kiyomori, his sons, and other members of the Taira clan), and a painting by Yokoyama Taikan of Okakura Kakuzô as Chinese poet Qu Yuan. There are about 4500 items displayed including fine arts and crafts, historical materials, swords, armor and gagaku costumes, Noh masks, musical instruments and Buddhist sutras, mostly used by the top figures of the Heike Clan, a dominant politico-military family in the feudal days.
We saw a really cool artifact but photos were not allowed (I know, since when do we actually follow the photo rules?!?) and I never imagined that we would not find anything on google about this item. It was described as an Iki educational tool for the purpose of teaching moderation. It was a little jar hung by two pieces of string between two poles. When the jar is 80% full of water, it stands upright between the two poles. When the amount of water is less or more, it causes the jar to tilt.
It was time for lunch and we went to a local Japanese restaurant for the island specialty – Anago-meshi, broiled conger eel on top of rice.
We even used chopsticks! It turns out cutlery is useless if you just leave it in the suitcase. It was delicious and hopefully I indicated as such when I said oishī to our waiter. He seemed pleased by the comment. Thank you google translate!
There are a number of temples on Miyajima Island, including Toyokuni Shrine with the five-storied pagoda, and Daiganji Temple – one of three most famous Benzaiten temples of Japan. We had a look at the five-storied pagoda from the outside (it was closed anyway) and we gave all other sites on the island a miss because of the weather.
The five-storied pagoda (Gojunoto) was originally constructed in 1407, and it was restored in 1533. The main deity enshrined here is the Buddha of Medicine, accompanied by the Buddhist saints Fugen and Monju.
The pagoda as a whole was constructed in Japanese style as evidenced by the ornamental caps of the railing posts as well as in the placement of the rafters. However, Chinese influence can also be seen in such parts as the top of the wooden pillars supporting the eaves, as well as in the tails of the rafters.
Elaborate Giboshi decorations (decorations resembling leek flowers) are found on the railing posts of the first story, while Gyaku-ren and Kaika-ren decorations (resembling lotus flowers) are placed on the railing posts from the second story to the fifth.
This structure is said to be one of only five examples in Japan. It resists horizontal oscillation caused by earthquakes and typhoons. The pagoda is 27.6 meters high and its roof is covered with layers of Japanese cypress bark shingles. When major repair work was carried out in 1945, the structure was restored to its original style by coating it with red lacquer.
The interior of the pagoda is decorated with auspicious motifs such as the Kannon Bodhisattva, Eight Views of Shohshoh, a dragon, lotus flowers and the Shingon Hasso sutra painted on the ceiling, the Raigo Wall (the special name for the wall behind the Image of Buddha) and the rest of the interior wooden walls. However, it is not open to the public.
One of the unique structural features is the central pillar of the pagoda, which extends from the peak of the roof only to the second story, instead of to the foundation. The names of donors have been carved on each of the sixteen pillars of the first story. Fourteen of these donors were women.
Toyokuni Shrine did provide adequate protection from the weather for a photo…
Daiganji Temple is dedicated to Benzaiten, the Goddess of eloquence, music, wisdom and wealth, and is known as one the three most famous Benzaiten Temples, along with those in Enoshima, in Kanagawa and Chikubujima in Shiga. The Benzaiten is opened to the public only once a year on June 17.
Deer wander freely through the streets and parks. They are wild animals, but fearless and inquisitive, not above chewing clothing that’s lying around. Deer on Miyajima are called Nihonjika, “Japanese deer” and there are about five hundred deer on the island. It is believed that the Miyajima deer have lived on the island for 6000 years. Deer are believed to be a messenger of the gods in the Shinto religion. Therefore, they are treated very well by the locals and are not scared of people.
Momiji-dani Park, or Maple Leaf Park, where the Momiji-dani-gawa River flows, has many maple trees, and is a famous spot for viewing autumn leaves. From the park you can go to the top of Mt. Misen (535 meter above sea level) by a cable car and on foot. At the top you can enjoy the view of the scenic Seto Inland Sea from the viewing platform.
Omote-Sando is the main street from the port to Itsukushima Shrine and there are a lot of souvenir shops on both sides of the street. The shamoji, a style of wooden spoon used to serve cooked rice without impairing the taste, is said to have been invented by a monk who lived on the island. The shamoji is a popular souvenir, and there are some outsized examples around the shopping district. We were more attracted to the bling type souvenirs and spent some time, and money, in a jewelleryshop. These days, strict measures are taken to ensure that the island’s sole town retains a classically Japanese Edo-era look.
Back at the hotel the bears stocked up on medicine, to make sure no nasty germs stick to them 🙂