Miyajima is a small island located in the Seto Inland Sea, barely one hour away from Hiroshima. A 30-minute train ride via the JR Sanyo line will take you from Hiroshima to Miyajimaguchi, where you can take a 10-minute JR ferry ride to the island.
Miyajima is probably better-known for its giant torii gate that is floating on top of the water. This torii belongs to Itsukushima shrine, one of Japan’s three most scenic places, or nihon sankei to the locals.
After seeing plenty of toriis and shrines in the past 10 days of our Japan trip (you’d know what I meant if you’ve been to Inari Fushimi in Kyoto), including another torii floating on the waters of Lake Ashi in Hakone, I didn’t exactly come to Miyajima to see Itsukushima. I included Miyajima because I read this is one of the best places to view flaming red maple leaves at the peak of autumn in Japan and because I wanted to see a glimpse of the Seto Inland Sea. If you’ve read one of my previous posts, you would know all about my obsession with this particular sea 😛
Most visitors visit Miyajima as a busy day trip from Hiroshima or other nearby cities, but I decided we should stay one night here and enjoy the island without having to worry what time the last ferry would depart. Since hostels are non-existent on this island, we decided to make our stay in Miyajima the one night throughout our 15 days in Japan when we would splurge on a top-quality traditional ryokan with kaiseki dinner 😀
My first choice was Auberge Watanabe. Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately), they were closed on the day we were supposed to arrive. And that’s how we ended up with the unbelievably homey and lovely Momiji-so, our best night in Japan 🙂 Momiji-so was included in the list of recommended accommodations inside Frommer’s Japan and reviewers never ran out of praises for this place on TripAdvisor, especially when mentioning the famous innkeeper, the obasan (Japanese for aunt or grandmother).
We had been instructed at the point of booking to give them a call as soon as we arrived at the ferry terminal so they could send a car to pick us up. And hence, we stood right in front of the public phone booth inside the terminal trying to figure out how to call, or rather, what to say with our limited Japanese. By majority vote, my brother was appointed the spokesperson since his Japanese is the best among the 5 of us. With my barely existent Japanese, I could only catch moshi moshi along with kyo wa and okyakusan and plenty of ‘errr…’ and ‘umm…’ in the conversation that lasted for less than 2 minutes. 15 minutes later, an SUV arrived outside the ferry terminal to whisk us to Momiji-so. Thank God for a Japanese-speaking brother 😉
The 10 minutes drive from the ferry terminal to the inn was so winding it felt longer than it was. We passed by Itsukushima shrine, the city centre, lots of souvenir shops, street food stalls, and traditional houses lining up the narrow alleys wide enough only for one car. Momiji-so itself was located inside the Momijidani park, very near to the walking trail that we planned to hike the next day. The moment we entered the park, I immediately understood why Miyajima is rated one of the best places to view maple leaves in the autumn. The leaves ranged from flaming red, to yellowish and brownish, some were even still green. I also saw several purplish red leaves. The explosion of colors was truly a feast to the eyes and to the camera lens.
If you’re expecting a luxurious high-end inn, you would be disappointed. Momiji-so was practically the home of the innkeeper and her family, with 3 or 4 rooms rented out to guests. It’s very down-to-earth, cozy, quiet and homey, perfect for a small family like us. We were greeted with a cup of hot matcha and a red bean manju in the shape of maple leaf.
Once inside the room, we couldn’t help gushing over the lovely view that overlooked our balcony, a small wooden bridge crossing over a koi pond on an autumn backdrop. The pond was full of not just koi fish, but also fallen maple leaves of various colors. The whole set up was so cozy we nearly refused to go out and simply wished to spend the rest of the day lounging around (remember, 3 out of 5 of us are hikikomoris by nature :-P)
Fighting over the urge to stay indoor, we decided to patronize the small restaurant that Momiji-so ran for lunch. The thought of having lunch alfresco surrounded by colorful maple leaves (and the occasional deers :-P), with outdoor temperature of around 15 degrees soon overtook our desire to stay in.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the city center, snapping plenty of pictures along the way and stopping by outside Itsukushima shrine for a while to view the torii gate from the beach side. Grilled oyster is one of Miyajima’s famous local snack. Now, I’m not a fan of oyster, raw nor cooked, as I couldn’t stand putting anything that is slimy and fishy into my mouth. However, Miyajima’s oyster was not fishy at all! It was perfectly done, just a couple of minutes on the grill, it’s neither raw nor well-done and neither slimy nor fishy when I put it in my mouth. For someone who is not a fan of oyster at all, I would say it was delicious and I wouldn’t mind a second helping 🙂
Not being able to wait any longer for the highlight of the day, our kaiseki dinner, we finally decided to walk back to the inn and get ready for dinner. We took a bath in the prepared ofuro (Japanese bath), changed to our yukata and waited (im)patiently for dinner to be served.
Dinner was by far the best meal we’ve had in Japan, and probably one of the top 3 best meals I’ve ever had in my life. Prepared and served by the cute & kindly obasan herself, there were all sorts of sashimi, huge prawns, another delicious oyster, fish, super tender Hiroshima beef, salad, fruits, and last but not least, miso soup. Every dish was so mouth-watering it made us crave for the next one. The obasan was so thoughtful she even prepared a set of meal for my 2-year-old godson! With her limited English and our limited Japanese, the five of us and obasan made such a cute scene trying to chit chat and converse with one another. We surely went to bed with fully-satisfied tummies that night 🙂
After breakfast, which was another well-prepared and thought of meal including a special menu for baby, we set off to hike the Momijidani trail. There are several walking trails in Miyajima leading to the summit of Mount Misen (where the top view of Seto Inland Sea and the surrounding islands can be seen), with Momojidani trail being one of them. It took approximately 2 hours to reach the summit, for someone with an average fitness level like my husband and I. Mind you, with the amount of exercise that we regularly do back home, we consider our fitness level above average. But apparently the Japanese are such a bunch of very fit people, even the elderlies, we had to relegate ourselves to just average fitness level when walking and climbing in Japan 😛
With a 2-year-old baby in tow, our friends decided to take the ropeway straight to the summit instead of hiking the trail. We parted ways halfway, and after a very careful consideration, my brother who wasn’t used to much exercising decided to take a leap of faith and hike with us. He bravely huffed and puffed his way up the steep slopes alternated with hundreds of stone steps for 2.5 km. We were nearly beaten to the top by a group of super aunties who set off at about the same time as us. We nicknamed them super aunties because they were obviously in their 50s or 60s, thin and frail-looking with petite frames, yet they were unbelievably fast. We also came across a man carrying a 2-year-old baby with one hand while climbing swiftly and twice faster than us without seeming to lose his balance at all. By the time we were several hundred meters away from the summit, he was already heading down in the opposite direction.
The last 700 meters of the trail was a gentle slope of a narrow stone path, flanked by trees on one side and bush-hidden cliff on the other. On the cliff side of the path, glimpses of the small islands dotting the Seto Inland Sea can be seen from between the branches, as if tempting us with sneak peaks of what we would find on the summit. If this did not encourage us to climb faster, the thought of being overtaken by the super aunties surely did 😛
The view on the summit was exactly how I imagined it to be. An immense sea of water dotted by mounds of islands, big and small. Apart from a corroded viewing platform and a small cafe not worth mentioning, there wasn’t much to be seen. Visitors were either busy taking pictures on the viewing platforms or sitting down on the grounds with their lunch bentos chatting. Deers roamed freely, completely unintimidated by the crowds. Two of them were even busy fighting over a scrap of newspaper which they proceeded to chew and munch as of chewing and munching on some grass.
The ropeway station was just a few hundred meters away from the summit of Mount Misen, so we descended back to Momijidani park by means of ropeway and cable car. We passed by Momiji-so for a quick lunch and to catch a ride to the ferry terminal along with our luggage which was still kept at the inn. After enjoying such a 6-star service from them, it was really hard to say goodbye to Momiji-so and the kawaii obasan. When one of the innkeepers finally dropped us off at the ferry terminal, we spent 5 minutes bowing to one another, with neither of us willing to be the first to stop bowing. It was probably a scene so commonly found in Japan, but for us, it was truly a genuine reflection of a wonderful and unforgettable one night stay in Miyajima.
As we set off to our next destination, Hiroshima, we made a pact to return to Momiji-so again someday 🙂