Plan for the day
Last evening as we reviewed our itinerary for the next day we made some changes. We decided to stay longer in Miyajima. Instead of leaving at 2 pm, we decided to stay for another sunset at Miyajima. After all Miyajima was one of the most famous places in Japan and we should not rush through it. Our stop for the night would be Karushiki city about 167 km from Miyahima.
We took the day slow and easy, walking and exploring Miyajima, stopping several times for tea and coffee breaks. By the time we left Miyajima it was closed to 9.00 pm. We drove for one hour before we took a break for a very late dinner. After dinner we drove for another one hour before we reached our hotel in Kurashiki. By the time we settled down to sleep it was close to 1 am.
Morning walk along Omotesando street
From our hotel we just had to walk a short distance of 100 m to reach the start of Omotesando Street. The street was lined with shops on both sides, there were souvenirs shops, restaurants, cafes etc and they were already opened for business at 9 am in the morning.
On our way to Omotesando street we met several deer roaming around. They seemed to be very comfortable sharing space with humans as they did not shy away when we approached them. We left the deer at the waterfront and turned left to take a parallel street. Walking down Omotesando street was a pleasant start to the morning.
There were many delightful souvenir shops that caught my attention and I could not resist stopping to look at their product displays. It was only when my stomach began to growl with hunger that turned my focus to looking for a good breakfast place.
Along Omotesando Street there were many stalls selling “finger food” which was not my idea of a breakfast. We eventually walked into “Home Sweet Home” that looked like a proper restaurant. We ordered Okonomiyaki Hiroshima style, it was fried vegetable (bean sprouts) with a few thin slices of pork topped up with egg and some sticky brown sweet sauce. It costed ¥760 a plate and we shared it. Taste wise it was not fantastic, we were eating it for the experience and was glad that we only ordered one plate for the two of us.
After breakfast we continued our walk down the street heading toward Itsukushima Shrine. Though it was a Friday, Mijiyama was already packed with visitors, this was not surprising because today was the first day of Japan Golden week (public holiday).
At 10.30 am the east entrance of the shrine was already packed with visitors. I bought our admission tickets (¥300 per person) at the ticketing counter just before the entrance. But before going in we walked back to the washing trough (purification fountain) to do the usual before-entering-shrine “cleansing” ritual.
I used a bamboo ladle, filled it with water and washed one hand at a time. I usually skipped the washing mouth process, as it would require me to pour the water from the ladle to my cupped hand, drink it and spit it out. This usually left me dripping wet so I skipped this “mouth cleansing part” which I noticed many visitors skipped too.
On the left side of the east entrance, written in Kanji were “World Heritage” and on the right side were “National Treasure Itsukushima Shrine. This shrine had more than 1400 years of history and was built standing in the sea.
The shrine was sometimes called the Floating Shrine because during high tide the sea water covered the foundation of the structure and the shrine looked as though it was floating. As we walked past Haraiden (purification hall) we saw a shinto priest carrying out some kind of ceremony. It looked like a very private event as there were only a couple sitting through the ceremony.
Walking further we came to The Haiden hall (prayer hall), it opened up to the sea, facing the great Torii gate directly. In front of the Haiden before the sea was an open stage (Hira-butai).
We left the prayer hall and went on to the “Open Stage” which was an open platform bordering the sea. From there we could see the Great Torii Gate standing prominently in the sea. Some visitors went up close to the torii gate in a long boat.
Standing on the open stage facing inward and looking to the left we could clearly see the five storey pagoda. It was near to noon and the vermilion color of the pagoda contrasted nicely with the brilliant blue sky.
As we walked towards the west entrance we came upon a grey and brown building, it was the Tenjin Shrine dedicated to a prestigious deity of education and intelligence. Although most of the buildings in Itsukushima Shrine were coated with vermilion lacquer, the Tenjin Shrine were left untreated in order to preserve the natural color of the wood.
Tenjin of Itsukushima Shrine
Along the corridor walkway to Tenjin there was a wall hung full of little tablets. On these tablets were wishes written by students praying for good grades. Soon we came to a beautiful red arched bridge, bridge Soribashi. The bridge was closed to visitors so we could only admire it from far. This bridge was used in the past by imperial messenger to enter the main shrine.
We left the Itsukushima Shrine at about 1.30 pm which was supposed to be high tide time. Unfortunately we seemed to have come in the season of “low” high tide so even at high tide the ground below the shrine was still dry.
After Itsukushima shrine we moved on to Daisho-in Temple an important Buddhist temple located at the base of Mt Misen just 10 minutes walk from Itsukushima Shrine.
Walking to Daisho-In temple was very straight forward. Once we exited the west entrance of Itsukushima Shrine there was a small square, we took the street that went directly inland. After a short walk we arrived at a huge two storey doorway to the temple.
From the door we could see a flight of steps going up slope. The stairs was divided into two lanes, one for going up and the other for coming down. In the middle of the stairs was row of “railing”.
Shinto Shrine and Buddhist temple were found all over Japan. I had read from somewhere that one of the best ways to tell whether the place was a Shinto Shrine or a Buddhist temple was to look at its entrance. The entrance to a Buddhist temple compound was usually a huge one or two storey door structure whereas the Torii gate marked the entrance to a Shinto Shrine.
The gate/door of Daisho-In temple was called Niomon. “Nio” refered to the two Nio king (仁王) wooden sculptures, one on each side of the doorway, they warded off evil and “mon”(門)meant “door” in Kanji
Interestingly the “railing” that divided the stairs into the up and down lanes was made up of rows golden prayer wheels. Each wheel was a cylindrical metallic container mounted on its vertical axis and revolved smoothly when swiped.
These wheels had Buddhist scriptures (sutra) inscribed on them. One revolution of each wheel symbolised chanting the sutra once. I had been told before that one must not spin the wheel in the wrong direction as it would mean chanting the sutra in reverse.
This idea of putting the prayer wheels on the stairs was brilliant, the fun of spinning the wheels made the up slope climb easy for the visitors and from the religious aspect tons of people were now chanting the sutra.
At the top of the stairs were several halls but it was the many stone statues that caught our attention. Some small, some large and some were very cute.
I walked up to Chokugan-do Hall to ring the “Cat Bells” (my own personal name for the bells) and made a wish. There was supposed to be some standard procedure prior to the ringing of the bells (waking up the deities). It involved some clapping, bowing, making a wish, ringing bell then clapping and bowing again. I could hardly remember the sequence of actions so I just did by best.
Interesting at Daisho Hall, there was no bells. It had a pulley, the rope that went round the pulley was also strung through the centers of many wooden balls. As I pulled the rope, the balls went over the pulley, they dropped and slammed into the balls below. Each impact created a “pop” sound. A different form of “waking up the deities”.
It was about 3 pm when we decided to take a “long” coffee break. Instead of walking the same street that led from Itsukushima Shrine to Daisho-in Temple we took a different route down to the waterfront. Along the street we saw a cafe.
From the outside, the cafe looked just like a typical Japanese traditional house. If not for the signboards that were hung at the door way we would not have known that it was a cafe. Inside we realised that this was a family run cafe as the waitresses looked like middle age Japanese housewives serving tea to guests that came for house visits. We ordered two cups of coffee, one ice cream and one cake.
The cost came up to ¥2200. Not cheap at all, I guessed we were paying for the ambience. The cafe was very peaceful, quiet and had a garden with a great view. From the garden we could see a huge house behind, it looked like the family living quarter.
We had a very restful time at the cafe. We sat there for close to two hours, drinking, eating and surfing the net. By about 5 pm we returned to Itsukushima Shrine to view the sunset.
Sunset at Itsukushima Shrine
We walked back into the shrine through west entrance. There was no ticket booth or staff at the west entrance so nobody checked our tickets. Most visitors entered the Shrine from the east entrance and exit from the west entrance. Since we were at the west end we decided to enter the shrine from the west entrance.
Wow! The golden sun rays lighted the west entrance so beautifully. We retraced our steps walking from the west entrance to the east entrance and marveled at how the entire vermilion interior of the shrine looked so stunning. Since it was near to closing time the number of visitors had also dwindled and we had the entire place to ourselves! This made taking photos so much easier.
By the time we reached the East Entrance it was near closing time. A staff closed the gate promptly at 6 pm.
Though the sky was still shining bright the shrine was closed for visitors. At night the shrine would be brightly lighted and visitors could only enjoy it from far. From my readup, Itsukushima Shrine would be lighted up till 11 pm each night.
The tide had dropped and many visitors walked all the way to the base of The Great Torii.
I did not attempt to walk out to the torii gate as the ground looked too muddy for me and I did not want to dirty my shoes. I left it to my husband to explore the torii gate up close. I like many other visitors were standing on higher ground waiting for the sun to set.
I was not so sure what to expect. Since many people were waiting patiently staring at The Great Torii Gate, I could only assume that there must be something worth seeing and we must be at the right place too.
Soon we saw the sun looking like a bright golden ball gradually coming lower and lower. The sight of the sun setting over the The Great Torii Gate was absolutely breathtaking.
I was glad that we extended our stay on Miyajima. We reached Miyajima late last evening at about 7 pm and missed this breathtaking sight.
This sight, this place certainly deserved to be called one of the three best sights in the whole of Japan.
We left for the jetty at about 8.30 pm and caught the 9 pm ferry to Miyajimaguchi. It was already dark and the car park was totally deserted except for a few cars. We drove towards Kurashiki where we had already booked a hotel room.
Kurashiki was about 167 km away and our drive would need about two hours. About an hour later we stopped at Expressway rest stop for dinner. It was already 10 pm and we wondered what sort of food would still be available. Surprising the food court at 小谷SA was still in operation. We had ramen and rice and our dinner cost was ¥2070, pretty standard price.
Accommodation for the Night
Our hotel was Toyoko Inn Kurashiki. Out of the 17 nights for the trip, 11 nights would be at a Toyoko Inn hotel.
Toyoko Inn was a hotel chain catering to business men, its rooms were clean and very basic and it had outlets all over Japan. The cost of a room was comparatively cheaper than other hotels and being a Toyoko Inn I was given some discount.
I booked this hotel rather late, about two months ago so there were not many room options to pick. I only managed to book a economy double room which was basically a single room with a queen size bed. The cost of the room was ¥5788, it came with ensuite bathroom and breakfast. Compared to the the room price at Sakuraya Hotel (Miyajima) this room was only half of it.
Well, “half price” room came with half size room. Our economy double room was really tight. There was no room to move around at all. On the bed there was a laminated note advising customers to place their luggage under the bed. For us we left our luggage in the car and brought only overnight bags so the space problem was less of an issue.
Toyoko Inn car park was an automated multi storey type which meant our car was safely locked up at night. We were quite comfortable leaving our luggage in the car as Japan was also a relatively crime free country. Parking charges was ¥500.