Miyajima Island

Miyajima & Hiroshima

I always thought that Hiroshima was known for all the wrong reasons, however recently I’ve come to think that maybe it’s not.  As terrorist attacks become almost common place in major cities around the world, and every day the news start with a story of a new atrocity, maybe we should be thinking more about Hiroshima as where it all ends.

Hiroshima was almost completely flattened by the atomic bomb on the morning of 6 August 1945.  Around 70% of its buildings were completely destroyed, and buildings that survived were badly damaged.  It that weren’t bad enough, Hiroshima was struck by a devastating typhoon in September of that same year.  The city had to be completely rebuilt.

Near the detonation site of the atomic bomb stands the “Atomic Bomb Dome”, all that remains of what once was the Industrial Promotion Hall. Nowadays it is on the edge of the Peace Park, a peaceful green space for quiet contemplation and remembrance of the horrors of the bombing.  Built in 1948, it was intended to be an everlasting symbol of peace.  There are a number of memorials, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Flame of Peace.  The flame is always burning, but is purposely not called an eternal flame.  The hope is that one day when all nuclear weapons have been eliminated, the flame will be extinguished. The Cenotaph has all the victims’ names and an inscription: “Rest in Peace, we will never repeat the error”.  Let’s hope that’s true.

About an hour or so from Hiroshima is Miyajima Island. The first thing you see as you get close to the island is the beautiful vermilion Torii gate.  The entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine, it was built in the water as most people arrive by boat.  The Shrine itself is a beautiful structure, which was first built in the second half of the sixth century, however remodeled into the present structure in 1168.  The Torii gate has been rebuilt several times, and I was fascinated to discover that it is not buried into the seabed but stands on its own weight, which is several tons.  I had a chuckle to discover another entrance gate which apparently is called the “Never Used Gate”.  It is reserved for God.

Miyajima Island

Views from the Itsukushima Shrine

I had hired a guide for a walking tour which turned out to be a great idea.  Nobuko, a local guide with many years experience, was very knowledgeable, and a very gentle lady who had enough information but didn’t overburden me.  She explained the purification rituals that I have been witnessing local Japanese perform at Shrines and Temples that I have visited.  Firstly you go through the Torii gate (don’t worry, there’s one for land based people too), then you purify with water.  Pick up the ladle with your right hand and wash your left hand.  Then pick up the ladle with your left hand and wash your right hand.  Finally pick up the ladle again with your right hand and pour some water into your left hand and rinse your mouth.  Then tip the ladle so the water washes the handle.  The third purification is to pick up the sticks with white cloth and tap your left shoulder, then your right, then your left again.  People, I am definitely pure now.

At this time of year, Shrines all around the country were preparing or the New Year celebrations.  People bring back last year’s good luck charms and leave them at the temple, because as I was intrigued to discover, they have an expiration date on them on don’t last beyond the year.  I really hope some enterprising temples are recycling these for sale again the following year.  Itsukushima Shrine is Shinto, the indigenous faith of the Japanese people.  These temples are very simple, with a pure and clean design.  The Buddhist Temples have a lot more decoration.

Miyajima Island

At the Itsukushima Shrine preparations for the New Year’s Day celebrations are underway

Miyajima Island

Sake barrels – where there is a temple, there is also sake

As well as the Shrine there are a number of other temples on Miyajima, so of course my visit to the island included these as well.  The most important Buddhist temple is Daisho-in Temple.  I confess I particularly enjoyed having a Sencha tea provided by the temple and enjoying the views.  One of my favourite things on island was the five-storied pagoda, said to have been built in 1407 and stands at 28 metres high.  I thought it looked stunning against the backdrop of the temple architecture with views of the water and the distant city in the background.

To my surprise I discovered that Miyajima has a very large number of deer who roam freely on the streets.  I asked Nobuko if they are ever hunted or used for food.  She looked horrified and told me that deer are thought of as sacred in the native Shinto religion because they are considered messengers of the gods.  That helps to explain why they are so tame!

My excursion to Miyajima Island was a true delight.

Miyajima Island

Miyajima Island

The five-storied pagoda


Miyajima Island

Deer wander freely on Miyajima Island

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