Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Magnificent Miyajima

One of the wonderful things about visiting Hiroshima is hopping on one of the many trams and moving around the city. Much like Melbourne in Australia, the network is extensive and it can take you far and wide. There are modern trams, but I particularly loved the many beautifully preserved carriages from the 1950/60’s (many of which were provided by countries during re-building following the devastation of the A- Bomb). One such trip will take you on a 16km journey from the city centre to Miyajima-guchi, where you can board a ferry across to Miyajima Island. This is a wonderful spot, which as you look across the narrow channel, evokes images of traditional Japanese woodblock prints with their ethereal scenes of mountains rising from the mist. The trip over is quite short and the township that awaits you is a very quaint, with the usual tourist shops and specialised restaurants. However, what strikes you more immediately are scenes of wild deer happily wandering around the town. After many years of continued contact with humans, they are now in the habit of meandering down from the mountains on a daily basis in the hope of scrounging the odd morsal. While the interaction of these placid beasts and camera-laden tourists is not necessarily encouraged, it has become inevitable and somehow it all seems to work. Miyajima is a world heritage listed site and as well as the deer and it’s many temples, is probably most recognised by the Tori Gate, which is one of the most photographed sights in Japan with this iconic image making it’s way onto the cover of many a travel brochures. Standing a few hundred metres off shore it amazingly remains freestanding on the sand and at low tide it is possible to walk out to view it at close quarters. However, the best view of this magnificent gate is from the shore at the Itsukushima Shrine; a classic piece of Japanese architecture, painted in traditional orange colours combined with natural woods. It stands in the shadow of Mt. Misen and leads to a series of walking trails that take you along picturesque paths to the summit, which is over 500 metres above sea level. Fortunately, for those less inclined there is also the cable car option, which I was quite happy to use on the way down after a couple of hours of steep up hill hiking. However, walking is certainly worth the effort as you encounter more wild deer and sometimes even monkeys along the way. Nearing the top, the trail narrows and there are many giant boulders to traverse before you begin to smell the welcoming charcoal fumes from the Shingon Buddhist temple that contains a sacred flame that has burnt for over 1,170 years. Upward a few hundred metres you finally reach the mountain peek which rewards you with the most spectacular views of the Seto inland sea all the way through to Hiroshoma. Thankfully when I was there it was fine and sunny, the view was clear and looking downward there was a quiet opportunity to reflect upon the magnificence of Miyajima Island.

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