We arrived at night, feeling a bit raw after Hiroshima. We set our expectations to Marianas Trench-Level, knowing we were staying in another ryokan (posts passim). All in all, we were tired, wistful, rinsed. And yet… the approach was promising. Miyajima’s an island (‘jima’ means ‘island, as does ‘shima’ – Hiroshima used to be an island too, when it was reclaimed from the sea by a feudal lord of old) so we had to drive onto a cute little ferry and cross the straits to get there. The ‘tori’ gate you see in the picture above was illuminated and the tide was high so it appeared to float. And Mount Misen rose above the bay, with twinkling lights leading pilgrims to the shrines at the top. It was… kinda magical. But still: ryokan.
However, not only is our ryokan actually-not-that-bad-in-fact-quite-lovely but it’s location is sweeeeeeet. It’s right in the middle of the main shopping drag, lined with Japan-tat emporiums (Japan-tat is the best tat in the world: FACT) but also tonnes of awesome street food stalls.
The next morning we walk out to a vision of actual CAKE FACTORIES, churning out cute little maple-leafed shaped sponges filled with chocolate (yey!) or bean paste (eugh…) plus the local delicacy – fried oysters (weird) and piles of Japanese sweets dusted with matcha tea (stay still long enough in Japan and someone will dust you with matcha tea powder).
Random fact: here, as in many places we’ve been, there are DEER. The Japanese are extremely deer-friendly. Miyajima is no exception. My sons take the Japanese deer-love and raise it to GAME LEVEL. They chase them, hug them, try to ride them. And then they get dejected when the deer spurn them and trot off elsewhere. It’s like a schlocky soap opera but with deer as the love-rats.
The good news is there lots to do in Miyajima apart from get rabies from deer. We ran amok in picturesque Japanese gardens, on bridges, waterfalls. Then we headed for the mountain and Ed tried to duck out because he sniffed the prospect of PHYSICAL EXERTION on the breeze, but we whisked him into a cable car before he could run. He did whine quite a lot though. He sounds freakishly like Scooby Doo when he’s whining.
I could say it was a peaceful stroll to the summit but what with Scooby-Doo, the thousands of tourists (leaf-peeping season on a sacred island is somewhat of a daytripper-magnet) and the Japanese evening news crew that accosted us at the top (‘How do you FEEL?!’) I would be lying.
We walked down the mountain instead of queueing for the cable car which turned out to be one of Adam’s better ideas because we got the most beautiful views of the temple at the bottom. It has a whole garden full of cute buddhas wearing knitted hats.
Also, by the time we got to the bottom, the sun was setting, Scooby had shut up and the tide was out which meant we could walk right under the famous tori-gate that had appeared to float the night before. Ed used it as an opportunity to collect fistfuls of sea-hermits. Never will a creature with a shell be safe.
But then the highlight of the day for fatso here: we found a stall selling the famous Hiroshima beef buns. These mothers are extraordinary, a bit like the char-sui buns you get in dim sum restaurants but filled with hot, sweet, umami-gasmic minced beef. I’ve long maintained you couldn’t do something with minced beef that I didn’t love and I am goddamn sticking to that position. It’s quite a big claim though, so I had three of them, just to make sure.
It’s simply the best Sacred Japanese Island I have ever been to. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Deer, tat, buns, buddhas: Miyajima has it all. Never has gaining two kilograms been so enjoyable.