Sponsored by MIYAJIMA ROPEWAY
Miyajima island can be overwhelmingly exciting just from its sea and ground level. Between playing with deer and eating momiji manju, many people don’t even realize that there’s a grand sacred mountain that rests atop the island. The quiet giant, Mt. Misen, sits peacefully behind the famous Itsukushima Shrine, and is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s been a historical and spiritual site since its discovery in the year 806 by a holy man, Kukai.
A stroll past other visitors, the vendors, a quick glimpse at the Torii gate in the water, a skip behind the Itsukushima Shrine…and you will enter the thick forest of Maple Valley Park, Momijidani Koen. Here, a few degrees chillier from the sunny outskirts of the island, you’ll find a trail leading to the mountaintop. If you have a dog companion, or if you’re eager to trek, an hour or two-long trails will lead all the way up the mountain. But the more popular – and I would say even more of a beautiful – option is to take the Miyajima Ropeway. You can get a discount for the round trip fair cost (¥1,350 instead of ¥1,800!) by combining it with the Hiroden one-day pass.
From the backside of the shrine, a path under the maple trees takes you on a ten minute walk (7 if you run a little!) to the ropeway, but there’s also a free shuttle bus that takes guests from that same area to the ropeway. I went early in the morning so the shuttles weren’t operating yet, but the brisk walk was a nice way to wake up instead. The ropeway actually consists of two different gondolas guests take to reach the top. The first one is much smaller, a tad older, and gives you a view of the front side of Miyajima looking over to the mainland of Hiroshima. This first gondola fits eight people, but with no lines around, I got one all to myself. It’s a quiet and slow ride that introduces you to the new heights of Miyajima. Unfortunately, my visit was a bit before the autumn foliage, but spots of red and yellow trees were still visible from above.
At the midway station, guests switch to take a much larger and newer gondola that fits 30 people. A recorded voice welcomes you and explains in Japanese and English the history of Miyajima and the significance of Mt. Misen. Meanwhile, guests enjoy the glistening view of the Setouchi Inland Sea where, on a clear day, Shikoku island is visible among many other islands floating at sea. All of these islands including Miyajima are part of the Setonaikai National Park.
Mt. Misen is 535 meters high, with breathtaking sights on the summit’s hike and around. To enjoy a leisure stroll (and take breaks on some of the steeper hiking points), consider spending about two hours around. Bring your own water and snacks to enjoy a picnic or rest with a view! But there are also vending machines for drinks and also a restaurant by the ropeway entrance. And don’t worry about the gondola schedule as one leaves every 10 – 15 minutes from 9am-5pm.
The Mt. Misen hiking loop includes many points of interests. Here is the map and suggested walking course for review but you can also get a sightseeing map once you arrive. Among the most fascinating spots, Reikado Hall and the two observatories – Shishiiwa Observatory and the Mt. Misen Observatory – are the most unique on this mountain. Reikado Hall might look like a common temple from the outside, but enter in and you’ll see a single small smokey room. This is where the holy Eternal Flame burns, said to be burning for the last 1200 years. It’s fascinating to see the wooden structure and the wooden Buddha figure to all be covered in smokey black, yet retaining its shape. Keep an eye out for the cute butuzou figurines placed around the temple too – they’re quite stylish!
The Mt. Misen Observatory is at the summit of the mountain. A trek past huge rocks and narrow pathways, you reach the summit which looks out at the open sea, cities, and mountains around. Shishiiwa Observatory is back by the ropeway, and gives you a look out from another side of Miyajima. With benches and a covered area, it’s a perfect spot to rest and enjoy the open air. Don’t forget to look through the binoculars to get a better view of Setouchi Inland Sea, too!
There are also many other spiritual figurines, prayer halls, and sightseeing spots basically around every corner of the hike on Mt. Misen. Different “halls” or prayer spots represent an array of topis to be prayed about – from finding eternal love to the family’s good health. Some visitors come for these spiritual reasons, others to find peace in the view. Some for exercise or to enjoy time with good company. Whatever the reason may be, Mt. Misen is a pleasant escape away from the escape you get on Miyajima. If at all possible, make sure to plan a visit with the seasons in mind – it’ll add a special touch to the already breathtaking views!