Miyajima (near Hiroshima)

There is a sub-theme to many people's travels in Japan, that of finding a swatch of the “real Japan.” While leaving the philosophical issue of whether concrete, neon and crowds aren't really the Real Japan, a place where you and your kids can find a very accessible part of Japan is the island of Miyajima, near Hiroshima.

You may not know it but you have probably seen Miyajima many times in photos and on TV, as its centerpiece, the giant red torii, is seen as a symbol of Japan, especially by guidebook writers who like to put it on their book covers. That all said, while it may not be the Real Japan, you and your kids can have a nice days outing on Miyajima. Read on…

Getting There

The suffix ”-jima” in Japanese means island, and so a short ferry boat ride is needed. The easiest way is to take a train from Hiroshima for “JR Miyajima-guchi” station. Follow the crowds past the souvenir stands and board the ferry. If you're clever, you can buy a train ticket that includes the ferry fare as well. Alternately, we understand that there are boats directly from Hiroshima to the island but did not take one ourselves.

The ferry ride from JR Miyajima-guchi station takes only about 10 minutes and is very stable. Even those with weak tummies should not be bothered. You board the ferry over a ramp, but the best views come from up top, which means ascending a narrow set of stairs, not stroller-friendly. The toilets were OK, not too clean but not too bad.

Deer

There are tame deer all over the island, which is good and which is bad. The deer have long ago decided snatching food off tourists beats the heck out of roots and berries, so be very careful when displaying food. Kids who hold out a cookie or cracker will soon find themselves surrounded by deer. We watched some deer actually tear the cookie package out of a child's hands. Suffice it to say you need to manage your child's interaction with the deer to avoid turning “Bambi” into a nightmare that'll cost you lots of therapy money in later life. Our kids quickly agreed that it was OK to watch other people get deer stomped.

Itsukushima Shrine

Assuming your kids have not been dragged off into the woods to be raised by deer, head off to your right as you exit the ferry terminal toward Itsukushima Shrine, which looks out to sea through the huge red torri. Admission is Y300 for adults, less for kids by age, and allows you to wander through the shrine area. Except for one part with an alter, clearly signed in English, you can take pictures anywhere. At high tide the ocean laps against the platforms between shrine buildings; at low tide you can walk out over squishy ground almost to the torii itself (slightly to very muddy shows, no go for a stroller). You can take some nice photos and/or enjoy some very pretty views from the shrine, out to the gate with mainland Japan in the background.

Other Stuff to Do

As you exit Itsukushima Shrine you run into other small temples/shrines and some shops. The smaller, accessible temples and shrines can be interesting if you enjoy that kind of historical thing, or deadly boring if your kids are more active. The shops carry lots of junk, with a clear preference for wooden rice paddles of all sizes. Some Japanese buy one of the paddles , write a wish on it, and then mail it to a friend, or leave it at a temple. If you just want a rice paddle to keep, or to use to shovel rice at home, you can buy them much cheaper in any medium-sized grocery or department store. However, they can also make a cheap enough memento if you do want to buy something on the island to take home.

If you have a whole day to see the island, there are rustic temples up on the mountains, a ropeway to a peak, supposedly aggressive food-stealing semi-wild monkeys and more to explore, though I'm afraid we didn't spend the time on the island to check it all out.

We didn't stay on the island overnight, but I doubt you will find any reasonably-priced lodgings. Most of the places to stay are high-end ryokans, traditional Japanese inns. These are a special part of traveling in Japan, and an experience older kids will likely not forget. Like I said, though, these are not cheap, so please read our article on taking your kids to a ryokan before deciding to take out your wallet.

Food

Being Japan, there are drink vending machines available every three or four feet. OK, maybe not that close together, but there are plenty of places to buy soft drinks. You can usually find bottled water at the stands as well, and sometimes milk at convenience stores, all very safe to drink.

Food-wise it was mostly sea food (duh), including clams grown right in the water you are looking at. Our kids were not impressed at the though of sucking slime goo from a shell, but if you do like that sort of thing, bring an appetite. Also bring money. We didn't find any inexpensive restaurants and settled on snacks for the kiddies and a meal once we returned to the mainland.

We had a good day trip out of Miyajima, and think you and your kids would enjoy it also. The ferries run all the time and the touristy-side of the island was closer to the convenient end of the scale than toward the cheap showy garish yechhy end. Have a good trip!

Learning More

Here are a few links to places where you can learn about Miyajima:

User Feedback

Why is Miyajima island under Tokyo when it is just a ferry trip off Hiroshima? Hiroshima and Tokyo are quite a while away from each other. You should make a destination: Hiroshima Hiroshima and miyajima are great.

Olivia

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