Saturday, April 22, 2017

Miyagima

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We took a day trip to Miyajima  on Itsukushima island, just south of Hiroshima.  The island is covered in maple trees, has a large, historic shrine complex, and a massive torii in the bay, in front of Itsukushima Shrine. 

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We had taken the JR train to Miyajimaguchi, and then a 10 minute ferry over to the island, as our JR passes covered both the train and that ferry.  The ferry gave us a great view of the massive torii in the bay; it is not driven into the sea floor, but has two large bases that rest on the sea floor, which are exposed at low tide.

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The ferry route also gave us a nice view of one of the pagodas in the shrine complex.  In the fall, the maple forest must be amazing.

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Miyagima was one of two shrine sites where we saw native deer wandering freely; they are respected as messengers from the gods.  Their scale isn’t obvious, but they’re roughly the size of a medium dog.  Some were fairly oblivious of the surrounding people, while others were definitely angling for food.

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Itsukushima Shrine is built largely on piers in a shallow harbor.  We arrived at mid-tide, but at low tide, the harbor is drained past the torii.  Some of the roofs has an almost thatch-like layering of thin, wooden shingles that was very striking on the exposed edges.

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While our ferry had very few people on it, we docked at the same time as two other ferries and were soon awash in tourists.  There were two large tour groups, one French, and one Chinese, that seemed to be in an unspoken competition to out-rude each other.  We decided to observe a wedding portrait session for a few minutes while the tourists exchanged sharp elbows.

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After the tour group squall had passed, we had the rest of the shrine to ourselves, which was very pleasant, and made for some great photos.

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Beyond the shrine, we followed a trail up through the maple forest towards the “ropeway,” or cable car, which travels to one of the higher points of the island with one transfer to a second cable car along the way.  The maples were still quite pretty in spring, but it would be spectacular in the fall.

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This is a view of the second cable car, which crossed a very long, unsupported span to the Shishi-iwa observation deck in the background.

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The views from the top were stunning.

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On our way back we took a different route and stumbled on this sign, which amused us.  We’ve since adopted the phrase “if run a little!”

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Our return route took us past a 5-level pagoda, and a pair of circling hawks.

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We walked back through the small town between the shrine and the ferry station, where we sampled the local specialty, momiji manju--maple-leaf shaped cakes with various fillings.  The one above is filled with a chocolate-almond custard, and was excellent.  We also tried another local offering, a skewer of steamed wheat gluten that is wrapped in bacon, injected with cheese, and then deep fried.  It was amazing, of course.

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We were headed to Osaka later in the day, so we took the next ferry back. With just a few other folks onboard, we were amazed to see the long line of people waiting to board for the return trip. We only had a few hours to spend on Miyagima, but it was definitely worth the detour.