Postcard 16: Miyajima & Iwakuni, Japan

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I always knew Japan would be beautiful, but never realized to what extent until I was physically there to see for myself. One of the features I felt made the country’s landscape so unique was the glistening waters serving as backdrops to traditional Japanese structures.

Miyajima Island
Our tour continued with a day spent perusing other parts of Hiroshima, starting with Miyajima Island — one of the most photographed tourist attractions in Japan — in the northwest region of Hiroshima Bay.

The morning started off sunny, but drizzling at the same time — a little disappointing since I wasn’t sure how I could enjoy lovely island views with the interruption of rain. While on the hour-long bus ride, I tried my best to listen to my tour guide Hiro, but my attention diverted to the outside of my window where a vibrant rainbow emerged in the distance. It reminded me that rain can sometimes add to the beauty of a landscape scene.

A full rainbow emerges in the distance.
While on the bus heading to Miyajima Island, a beautiful rainbow diverts my attention to the outside of my window.

We got off the bus at the Miyajimaguchi pier where we were about to board a ferry to the island. I shuffled my way over the ramp, shivering and hunched over from the nippy breeze that turned my cheeks bright pink. I couldn’t wait to get on the ferry — it was cold!

Standing at the pier amidst a cold breeze.
Standing at the pier amidst a cold breeze.
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A Japanese-style structure at the Miyajimaguchi pier resembles the architecture of Miyajima Island.

As the ferry slowly departed from the pier, I glanced out the window to see that I really was missing out on a fantastic view by staying indoors. Thus, I went out to the top of the boat to brave the sharp wind that was further accelerated by the ferry moving forward. What I saw made bearing the miserable cold completely worth it: a magnificent postcard view of a full rainbow hanging over the sparkling shore of Miyajimaguchi.

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A full rainbow hangs over the Miyajimaguchi shore.

It was almost time to dock and I turned towards the front of the boat only to see a hauntingly breathtaking sight of a small Japanese torii gate floating on the water amid a backdrop of vast greenery. I could certainly understand why this was regarded as one of the three most beautiful sights in Japan.

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A bright orange torii gate appears to float on the waters off Miyajima Island.

This torii gate marks the entrance of the Itsukushima-jinja — a Shinto shrine worshiped as the guardian deity of the sea, according to the Miyajima Tourist Association. It was literally built in the sea with its posts submerged in the water, so at high tide, it has the appearance of a shrine floating on the water. Lucky for us, we went at the right time because the high tide meant we could witness the floating shrine. Otherwise, we would see nothing but a shrine sitting on weather-beaten posts atop the sand.

Once the ferry docked at Miyajima Island, we had to walk about half a mile to get to the shrine, but on the way, we were greeted by wild deer roaming around the beach. Unlike the deer we saw in Nara, these deer were less tame, chomping on paper or anything remotely resembling food.

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A friendly island deer poses for photos in front of the Itsukushima-jinja torii gate.

Right in front of the shrine was what’s called “chozuya,” where visitors are encouraged to use provided ladles to rinse their hands and mouths with water. This ensures purification of the body before entering a shrine.

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Tour members stop at the Itsukushima-jinja chozuya to rinse their hands before entering the shrine.

From ancient times, people have revered Miyajima Island as a god itself, and I could see why. Walking through the Itsukushima-jima with the sound of the calm water hitting the shore, I felt a peaceful presence surrounding me. This would be the perfect place to find solace when needing an escape from reality.

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At low tide, visitors see the posts of the shrine.
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Shrine visitors leave their monetary offerings followed by prayer.
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The middle of Itsukushima-jinja allows for a clear view of the torii gate behind both sides of the shrine.

Upon exiting the shrine, we turned a corner and quickly passed a magnificent five-story pagoda. But there was no time to linger, for we were on a mission to find momiji manju — a Miyajima-unique waffle dessert — that Hiro had told us about.

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The frequently-photographed five-story shrine looms over spectators.

Hiro led us toward a narrow road lined with all kinds of shops — from food places to Hello Kitty-themed stores. We finally found the momiji manju store where I shamelessly helped myself to an assortment of manju samples. The green tea and chocolate-filled manju were melt-in-your-mouth delectable. I had to buy a few boxes to take home. Whether I would keep them or give them to friends was debatable.

After catching the ferry back to the Miyajimaguchi pier, it was time for lunch! With the chilly weather, a warm bowl of anago (eel) udon noodles sounded tempting.

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After surviving the cold weather, a bowl of anago udon noodles was “totemo oishii” (very delicious)!

Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture
I was thrilled to hear that we were about to enter the Yamaguchi Prefecture — since Yamaguchi is my last name, it was almost like I could claim ownership of this prefecture.

We were on our way to Iwakuni to see the city’s most distinguished landmark: the Kintai-kyo Bridge. The bridge — which spans the width of the Nishiki River — is comprised of five wooden arches with ends that meet massive stone pillars.

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The famed Kintai-kyo Bridge is comprised of five wooden arches with its ends meeting stone pillars.

Crossing over the bridge was actually a bit nerve-wracking since the stairs were not as steep I had expected. Although the surrounding view is gorgeous — with the sakura trees ahead and the rushing water under my toes — not paying attention could’ve cost me an ankle or two. I’m proud to say that, despite my clumsiness, I did not fall.

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Passersby tread through the shallow part of the Nishiki River in search of fishing spots.
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Walking down one of the arches of the Kintai-kyo Bridge wasn’t as simple as it looked from afar.

Crossing over the entire bridge, we reached the entrance of Kikko Park — the former residence of the third ruling lord Kikkawa Hiroyoshi and his family during the Edo period. The park is quite spacious and includes museums, shrines, shops and numerous statues of prominent Iwakuni figures.

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A group of dog owners take their pups for walks around Kikko Park.
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A Kikko Park ice cream shop serves a wide variety of flavors.
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A statue portrays Iwakuni samurai Sasaki Kojiro in action with his long sword.
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A turtle makes its way up to its home in a waterway in the park.

We didn’t have enough time to wander the entirety of the park, but it was enough to get to know fellow tour members better (I spent my time using what little Japanese I knew to chat with Eri-chan, our bus assistant).

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Overall, I enjoyed my time exploring the other sights Hiroshima had to offer. But it was bittersweet knowing that my Japan tour was slowly coming to a close.

Tour members gather for a group photo on Miyajima Island.
Tour members gather for a group photo on Miyajima Island.

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