Japan 2015 — Day 9: Miyajima Island

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Lists of the ‘top three’ sights like gar­dens, castles and onsens in Japan abound. And these aren’t lists merely com­piled by for­eign tour­ists, but by the Japanese them­selves! Now, if Kenroku-en is one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, then Itsukishima Shrine at Miyajima Island is one of the Three Great Views of Japan, a list com­piled by the schol­ar Hayashi Gaho in 1643. And how could it not be, with its float­ing torii gate set against a moun­tain­ous backdrop.

So, we’re off to Miyajima Island, a 50 minute trip by train and ferry from Hiroshima.

Hiroshima

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Our hotel in Hiroshima offers a wide vari­ety of options on its com­ple­ment­ary break­fast buffet.

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I try some wal­nut bread, a mini crois­sant, some egg omelette, and a meat ball, and fill up on curry rice. The bread isn’t the best, but the curry rice is hearty with hunks of potato and meat.

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I hydrate myself with some chilled mugicha (bar­ley tea), a berry infu­sion, and some miso soup.

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The entrance to our hotel is in the ground floor while the recep­tion area is on level one.

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A fire truck hurtles past as we walk to the Habacho tram stop.

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We’ve seen this advert­ise­ment mul­tiple times through­out our trips in Japan. A happy lion becomes a sad cat it you don’t watch your spending!

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The Hiroshima trains look spiffy red…

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…which coin­cid­ent­ally matches their sta­tion sign.

Miyajima Island

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While wait­ing for the JR ferry, we watch cars drive onto the privately oper­ated ferry to the island.

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Our ferry arrives after a short wait.

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It’s a beau­ti­ful morn­ing with none of the rainy weath­er that often plagues Kanazawa.

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The sheer size of the ferry makes the ride very calm.

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Whereas the privately run ferry goes dir­ectly to the dock at the island. The JR ferry makes a slight detour round to give com­muters a view of the float­ing tori gate. You don’t fully appre­ci­ate its scale until you’re stand­ing next to it.

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The bot­tom floor of the ferry is for cars, while pas­sen­gers occupy the top two floors. The middle floor is enclosed while the top floor is open to the elements.

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Anyone who knows me, knows I’m deathly afraid of anim­als. I love look­ing at anim­als but inter­act­ing with them is a whole oth­er mat­ter. But there are beau­ti­ful things to be seen on the island so I face my fears. The first deer we see rips a map out of a guy’s hand and eats it con­ten­tedly, so it’s not the best start. But thank­fully, that’s about as aggress­ive as they got and they’re not all that pop­u­lated on the island in the tour­ist dis­tricts (now, Nara…).

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We spot a deer with catar­acts in its left eye.

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There’s not much activ­ity at the shops near the port around 11am.

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This is the main shop­ping street on the walk from the port to the tori gate.

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Inside one of the shops, we spot this awe­some foam print shirt with all dif­fer­ent kinds of sushi!

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And these cute erasers in the shape of vari­ous animals.

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Some of the shops are still get­ting ready for the day.

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Mid way along the shop­ping street is Miyajima’s Giant Rice Scoop.

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The sign says: “This is the biggest rice scoop in the world, and was made by Miyajima Town as a sym­bol of a Miyajima, birth­place of the rice scoop, and to band down the tra­di­tion­al han­di­craft of wood carving to future gen­er­a­tions.” The scoop is 7.7m long with a max­im­um width of 2.7m and weighs 2.5 tonnes. There are rice scoops of vary­ing sizes for pur­chase on the island.

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This iza­kaya has the cutest rac­coon in its logo design.

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Oysters are a spe­ci­al­ity on the island and this res­taur­ant, in its tri­col­our of black, white and red glory, does them fancy.

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We pass by a shop with this awe­some fab­ric mod­el of their oko­nom­iyaki, oysters and beer.

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At the end of the shop­ping Street were greeted by two lions and a tori.

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A sign requests vis­it­ors not to inter­act with the deer.

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But nev­er­mind the sign, this ojis­an feeds the deer not feed the deer!) so they flock to him.

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These stone lan­terns would look pretty lit up at night.

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The deer on the island do not care for human con­tact unless you have food.

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Most of the deer are dehorned, but we see one here with its horns.

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These deers are star­ing at a rect­an­gu­lar recess in the wall as if they’re watch­ing TV.

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Our second glimpse of the float­ing torii gate dur­ing high tide.

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These are the steps lead­ing down to the torii gate dur­ing low tide.

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It’s well into lunch hour, so we skip past a bunch of shops to reach a res­taur­ant we’re eager to eat at before they sell out and stop serving lunch. We pass by a gar­age full of emer­gency ser­vice vec­h­iles (yes, I seem to have a fas­cin­a­tion with them.…).

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The res­taur­ant is loc­ated a bit off the main tour­ist trail in the quiet res­id­en­tial area of Miyajima on the way to Daisho-in Temple (the green roof can be seen in the distance).

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We loc­ate Fujitaya after fol­low­ing D’s trusty GPS. There’s no English out­side the store, so our hiragana read­ing skills come in handy.

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Fujitaya was foun­ded in 1902 and spe­cial­ises in anago-meshi, or baked eel on steamed rice. Anago meshi is the only dish on its menu for Y2,300. The res­taur­ant holds a Michelin star.

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The seat­ing area is at the front of the res­taur­ant, while the food is cooked at a room bey­ond the garden courtyard.

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A bell rings when the food is ready and one of the wait­resses out front (behind the counter serving tea and wash­ing dishes) goes out back to col­lect it.

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There are pretty bam­boo tiles lin­ing the back wall of the counter.

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Isn’t it beau­ti­ful? The baked eel has a deli­ciously ‘meaty’ fish tex­ture that we don’t usu­ally get from grilled eel that’s more fall-apart-in-your-mouth. The glaze, like a less intense ver­sion of the nor­mal sauce slathered over grilled eel, gives the fish a sweet and salty fla­vour without tak­ing away from the inher­ent fla­vours of the eel. Accompanying the anago meshi (which comes in a scald­ing hot bowl hav­ing come straight from the oven) is a broth with yuzu peel and a piece of sea­food (a clam?). The broth has a beau­ti­fully clear and light flavour.

From the Michelin Guide: ‘the own­er-chef buys in wild anago of 100 – 120g each, said to be the best tast­ing; they are cooked unglazed, and the sauce is applied after the order is received, so it takes time. The pip­ing hot rice has a some­what glu­tin­ous tex­ture, hav­ing just been steamed in a seiro.’

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We pass by Daigan-ji, a Buddhist temple.

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Stone lan­terns line the walk around the back cor­ridor of Itskushima Shrine.

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The lan­terns vary in size with this super sized one at the bridge cross­ing the river.

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This is the front entrance to Istukishima Shrine. We don’t actu­ally go in the shrine — D and I aren’t all that inter­ested after hav­ing done it extens­ively dur­ing our first trip to Japan — but we get a pretty good view of the shrine from the outside.

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These are the build­ings of the main shrine and wor­ship hall.

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And anoth­er view of the main shrine from the oth­er side.

This is the Tenjin Shrine, which is ded­ic­ated to a pres­ti­gi­ous deity of edu­ca­tion and intelligence.

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Here, we can see the naga-bashi (‘long bridge’), which con­nects the ushiro-zono (‘back enclos­ure’) with the Daikoku Shrine (loc­ated in the room at the centre of the photo) as well as a pond (one of three), which appears at low tide and served as water reser­voirs for fires.

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On the left is the sori-bashi (‘arched bridge’), which isn’t open to the public.

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And finally, this is the west cor­ridor (and exit) of Itsukishima Shrine. The archi­tec­tur­al style of the gable is called kara-half (‘Chinese gable’). The cor­ridor is around 180m long.

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Behind Itsukishima Shrine, there’s a shop selling maple wafer cakes filled with ice cream and anko. Many of the shops show pho­tos of US President Obama vis­it­ing, so I’m not sur­prised by this claim.

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There are food stalls set up selling corn cobs on sticks, oysters, takoy­aki, and oth­er skewers.

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A lone male deer loiters around the seat­ing area hop­ing to pick up scraps.

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We make our way up to Senjojaku hall. There’s a beau­ti­ful ginkgo tree shed­ding its golden leaves.

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Senjojaku Hall is also known as the pavil­ion of 1,000 mats, with the size of the hall being approx­im­ately 1,000 tatami mats. The inside of the hall is very smooth and shiny, hav­ing been pol­ished by many feet since 1587.

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This is the walk­way under­neath the hall.

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There’s a five stor­ied pagoda next to Senjojaku. I won­der what the inside of a pagoda looks like?

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The view towards Mount Misen is quite spec­tac­u­lar, with Daisho-in temple nestled at its base.

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A group of Japanese tour­ists fol­low this deer up the stairs, pat­ting its fluffy bum.

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A deer seeks shade next to a rick­shaw out­side Itsukishima Shrine. The rick­shaw is drawn by a man with a super shiny head (the bright sun­light bounces right off!).

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And we stop for a drink of Orange Fruits Cider made by the com­pany that makes Mitsuya Cider. It’s much like a fizzy orange cor­di­al, but with more orange fla­vour and less syrupy.

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The tide’s receded some­what, but we still can’t walk out to the torii.

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Others are keen to get as close now, but D and I decide to come back later.

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We’re walk­ing back towards the shops to try out mom­iji man­juMomiji man­ju are cakes baked in the shape of maple leaves tra­di­tion­ally with a filling of sweet red bean paste. They are fam­ous dessert cre­ated in Miyajima in the early 1900s as a loc­al spe­cialty to rep­res­ent Momijidani, a pop­u­lar maple leaf view­ing spot.

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Many of the mom­ij man­ju shop have their staff mak­ing them fresh on machine behind glass.

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This gen­tle­man deftly flicks eat mom­iji man­ju from its hot mould and onto the wait­ing trays.

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This is the first mom­iji man­ju shop we spot­ted on the island. It’s also the only shop that sells a black ses­ame mom­iji man­ju, so that’s where we end up.

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They sell mom­iji man­ju with cheese, green tea with milk, chocol­ate, cus­tard, orange, ses­ame paste, red bean, and red bean paste.

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Each mom­iji man­ju is the shape of maple leaves and comes wrapped in plastic.

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We try quite a few! Clockwise from top left: the green tea with milk is silky smooth and sweet without the usu­al hint of bit­ter­ness; the chocol­ate is tasty with a slight bean-y fla­vour that got us con­fused with red bean; the black ses­ame is rather subtle (we like to be hit in face with black ses­ame fla­vour!); and the red bean paste is very mashed and sweet without a pro­nounced red bean fla­vour. Of the four here, the silky smooth tex­ture of the green tea with milk com­ple­men­ted the crumbly tex­ture of the cake best.

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Having been dis­ap­poin­ted with our choice of red bean paste over plain red bean, we try anoth­er on the way back to the float­ing torii.

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This red bean mom­iji man­ju (top) is more tex­tured and fra­grant, exactly what we were after the first time, and the green tea had the more bit­ter than sweet fla­vours usu­ally associated.

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After eat­ing all the fla­vours of mom­iji man­ju we’d ever want to try, it’s low tide! So, we head back to the float­ing torii.

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The scale of this gate is huge. Although the ori­gin­al gate dates back to 1168, the cur­rent gate dates back only to 1875. Nonetheless, it is still mag­ni­fi­cent at 16 m high. The gate is built of decay-res­ist­ant cam­phor wood.

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Walking to the shrine involves nav­ig­at­ing around sea­weed, and vis­it­ors like to wedge coins between the barnacles — mostly Y5 coins. Barnacles are gross.

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At high tide, the water is about as deep as the height of one per­son. The scale of the torii becomes evid­ent when you’re stand­ing right next to it.

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This is the view of Itsukishima Shrine from the gate. The right side of the shrine (not in this photo) is under­go­ing renov­a­tion and covered in tarpaulin.

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Throughout the day, the deli­cious smells of grilling sea­food assaults our noses. We even­tu­ally track this smell down to oysters sold at vari­ous food stalls around the island. Hiroshima Prefecture pro­duces 70% of oysters in Japan. So, our way back to the port, we try one. Unfortunately, it smells bet­ter than it tastes — it was like a warm smokey oyster and a little fishy — but that’s just because they smelled amazing.

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We’re back at the port just in time for the next ferry (or just typ­ic­al Japanese effi­ciency with reg­u­lar ser­vices, I’m not sure).

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There are a couple of souven­ir stores inside the port build­ing. The Japanese can­not get enough of their souvenirs!

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They sell mini boxes of Hiroshima style oko­nom­iyaki fla­voured Pretz for more than the price of ordin­ary sized fancy Pretz!

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The sun’s set­ting as we make our way back across. Just beautiful.

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But there’s still people vis­it­ing the island so late (per­haps to stay overnight?).

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It’s blis­ter­ingly cold and windy on the way back and D and I are two of three people who brave the cold on the top floor of the ferry. But the view!

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You know you’re on a ser­i­ous ferry when it has its own remote con­trolled plank to bridge to the land.

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Outside Miyajimaguchi Station, we spot some pretty tiles cov­er­ing the base of the tree.

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Miyajimaguchi is a rather tiny sta­tion with two plat­forms, but ample English sig­nage to accom­mod­ate the hoards of tour­ists vis­it­ing the island. Since arriv­ing in Hiroshima, we’ve actu­ally had the pleas­ure of hear­ing Japanese being spoken every­where we go. It sounds weird to say that I’m Japan but there are really just that many Chinese people vis­it­ing Japan now.

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Back at Hiroshima, we head out to Tokyo Hands to admire briefcases and wal­lets after put­ting a load of wash­ing in the (free!) wash­ing machines at the hotel. Eventually our hun­ger takes the bet­ter of us and we settle into Yayoi-ken. We spot­ted a Yayoi-ken the pre­vi­ous night on the way to the Christmas illu­min­a­tions, and we’re delighted to find a branch closer to our hotel.

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It has a styl­ish wooden and exposed brick interior.

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Yayoi ken spe­cial­ises in teishoku, or tra­di­tion­al Japanese meal sets that come with a com­bin­a­tion of white rice, miso soup, sozai (side dishes) and picked veget­ables which come with the main dish ordered. with each set, you get the choice of white or six­teen grain rice — we opt for white.

D and I spend a long time star­ing at the menu out­side only to find out you order using the vend­ing machine! But that’s all right, since we’ve decided what we want, we can get straight to ordering.

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D has the fried chick­en with tar­tar sauce and deep-fried prawns teishoku. The chick­en was and shrimp were crunchy on the out­side with juicy and tender innards — just the way it’s sup­posed to be. D also takes advant­age of their free rice refills.

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I try the stir-fried egg­plant in miso sauce with grilled mack­er­el teishoku. I’m still on the hunt for grilled fish that com­pares to the mouth-water­ingly good grilled red sea bream D and I had at Zauo in 2013. The grilled fish is flaky and tasty, but still not the same as Zauo, while the egg­plant was a tad too salty and spicy on its own but had good bite and went very well with the rice.

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The covered shop­ping streets in Hiroshima are a far cry from the ones we’re used to in Osaka.

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Back at the hotel, we sit in the lounge area enjoy­ing some free drinks while D reads the news­pa­per and finds an art­icle about man­hole joshi, or girls who like tak­ing pho­tos of man­hole covers.

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D has a glor­i­ous time teas­ing me about my fas­cin­a­tion with the pretty man­hole cov­ers we see around Japan for the rest of the trip!