February has flown by in the blink of an eye. Of course, it’s a few days shorter than most months, but also because in the middle of February I had an entire week of vacation from school. I was able to have this vacation time because soon to be graduating high school students were taking their placement exams this week. In Japan, getting into a four -year university is not guaranteed, but earned through rigorous testing. Each university has their own entrance exam, and a lot of high school students are coming to universities to take these exams. Fortunately, my week was a lot less stressful and I spent the week traveling to Miyajima, Hiroshima, Himeji, and Takayama, all places with their own unique atmosphere, but for me, Miyajima was the hardest to part.
Leaving in the morning and taking the shinkansen or bullet train, followed by a short train ride, and then riding a ferry boat, I arrived on the island at early noon. I was quietly greeted by the numerous deer wandering the island and the stunning torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine. This shrine is known for being one of the most beautiful shrines in the world, and it easily won this title in my eyes. The shrine is open and airy and the red-orange against the sand and water is unexpectedly entrancing. I couldn’t get enough of this torii and wish I was staying longer to see at different times in the day, especially at low tide because at that time of the day you can walk up close to the torii. The next morning before leaving the island I went back to the shrine at 7 AM and despite it not being that early, it felt like I was the only soul in the world. All the deer had disappeared, the shops were still closed, and the sky was overcast, so not even the sun was there to greet me. By some stroke of luck, I was able to have a personal meet and greet with floating gate and it was my favorite moment from this trip.
Of course, I did more than gawk at a torii gate during my time in Miyajima. I made some new friends with the deer inhabiting the island, “discovered” the Giant Rice Paddle, and accidentally climbed up almost half a mountain. I had tickets to the ropeway course, which goes up half the mountain in sky gondolas, and once I reached the top I found myself immersed in nature. However, even though it was the end of the sky gondolas path, I didn’t realize there was a lot more mountain left before reaching the observation deck and in the end hiked up and down about half the mountain. Thankfully, the sky gondola returned me to the ground and I was able to enjoy some of the delicious cuisine offered there. Miyajima is famous for momiji manju and oysters. There are tons of street vendors selling fresh oysters and enough manju shops to feed all the deer. Momiji manju are maple leaf shaped cakes with a variety of fillings, the most common being red bean paste. My friends and I stopped at a shop making fresh, warm manju for about $1.50 each. I tried the custard filled manju and it was the perfect treat after the unexpected hike. If the island wasn’t so expensive (the starting price for most meals there was about $15-16 for a set I know could get for half the price anywhere else) I would’ve liked to stay an extra day.
Miyajima was serene.