The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

The sacred island of Miyajima

Part 3 of my chronicles of our New Year trip lands us in the island of Miyajima, home of Itsukushima-jinja (ie Itsukushima Shrine), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Haven't heard of it? Well, chances are, you have probably seen its famous 'floating' torii (Shinto shrine gate), which is one of the most photographed tourist attractions in Japan and rated as one of Japan's three best views. To get there, we had to ride the train from Hiroshima city for about 30mins and then take a short ferry ride to the island.

The torii from the ferry:

The island seems to be mainly a tourist spot with not much residential facilities, much like Rottnest Island back home in Perth. Deer roam freely around, much like Nara. The whole island is considered sacred, and the deer are seen as divine messengers. In one area, we saw two young bucks attempting to fight without any antlers, but in another area we saw a loving picture of a doe and her fawn. (From what I understand, the antlers of deer roaming in public access areas are sawn off for people's safety; they let the deer on the restricted slopes of the mountains keep their antlers)

Contrasting pictures of the nature of deer:

On this island, there is Mt. Misen, which is the holy mountain on this island. At 535m, we could either take a long hike to the peak, or take the cable car ('ropeway') up most of the way. We chose to do the ropeway up and hike back down. The ride took us to about 3/4 to the peak, and it was another 20-30minutes hike to the top. That was a lot of work especially since my legs were still quite sore from our snowboarding trip. On the way up, there was a rest point where we could view the giant iron pot said to have been used by a Buddhist saint in the 7th century and the water inside was kept simmering ever since. Surely the water inside needs to be replaced?

The said pot:

The view at the peak was gorgeous. Made our effort worth its while.

Us at the peak:

The view at the peak (lazy attmept at 'stitching' two photos together):

And the hike back down? It must have taken us well over 1 hour, although it seemed a lot longer. Needless to say, we were so glad to have finally reached the bottom. We weren't really all that interested to see the shrine (surely it can't be much different than the half-dozen other temples/shrines we've already been to?) so off we went to catch our ferry back to Hiroshima city. On our way to the jetty, we saw that the tide had receded and that the 'floating' torii was not 'floating':

High tide in mid-afternoon; lower tide in the early evening:


Just thought I'd share something interesting here. We meet many people on our travels, one of whom we'd first met on our Kobe trip - who would have thought that we'd bump into him again in Hiroshima! (He's a guy from Thailand working in Tokyo.) I mean, Japan is not really tiny Perth where you can say "It's a small town!"

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