Miyajima Island: Busted gondola leads to good things

✍️: Erin πŸ“Έ: Jan & Erin

Thanks to a broken gondola that doubled our hiking time (and distance!), we were given a beautiful sunset as the ocean hit high tide and surrounded the Itsukushima Floating Torii Gate.

The oft-photographed gate is just off Miyajima Island in Japan. The island is accessible by ferry after about an hour’s train ride southwest of Hiroshima, and it’s a must-do trip if you’re in the Hiroshima area. The island offers steep hikes to stunning mountain views, with a series of fantastic temples and shrines along the way — including maybe my favorite temple in Japan.

The island is also home to small “wild” deer that come up to you, eat your map and bite your pants. (You can read more about the little jerks in a separate video post.)

Daisho-in temple

Maybe my favorite temple in all of Japan was here on Miyajima Island.

The Daisho-in temple complex is made up of several ornate wooden buildings of varying sizes, each filled with paintings, shrines or statues. The structures dot the steep mountainside amid dense trees, colorful flowers, plants and streams.

Located near the base of the Mount Misen, the temple is among the most important temples of Shingon Buddhism, according to local guides.

Mount Misen

Daisho-in is near the start of a steep hike that takes you to the top of Mount Misen, a sacred peak that offers spectacular views of the ocean and small islands far below.

Few of the tourists who spilled off the ferry when we did made the full trek … maybe because they were smarter and knew the gondola wasn’t working. Ignorance worked in our favor this time, because the hike also offered a reprieve from the crowds.

Rasta buddhas?!

Daisho-in also gave an adorable surprise: hundreds of small stone statues, each one charismatically unique and adorned with a knit cap. We walked around a hidden corner, and there they were. I melted in smiles.

Only photos do it justice. A few are below, but check out our full slideshow here — I promise it’ll make you smile, too.

We spent a whole day on the island. We arrived when the tide was low enough to walk to the gate, before the ocean crawled back into the bay and surrounded the gate.

We’d planned to hike to the top of Mount Misen and then take a gondola down. But when we got to the top and hiked over to where the gondola usually picks up, we saw a sign (the only sign) noting the gondola was closed for the day.

So straight down we went, with empty water bottles. But that meant we got to the bottom of the mountain as the sun was beginning to set. It was a beautiful sight: The ocean had fully surrounded the torii gate and its accompanying Itsukushima Shrine, as the sun started to set behind them.

Sometimes busted gondolas lead to good things.

Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine

The shrine is a pier-like structure with several open-air hallways, painted bright orange and white. It’s closer to the beach that the torii gate but still gets surrounded by the ocean at high tide.

It also gets flooded with tourists. We walked through the shrine at low tide because we weren’t sure whether we’d be done with our hike before it closed. Not the best move. We had lots of company.

We recommend getting to the island early and visiting the shrine first thing. Or wait until about an hour before it closes, and go then. The crowds thinned out considerably, at least when we were there, and you can stay inside the shrine past the time the front gates close. It’s another great way to see the sunset.

We missed the gate closing by only 2 minutes. They were already sweeping up. But we still had a beautiful view of the sunset.

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