Everyone knows or should know the history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as it ended World War II’s war in the Pacific and advanced the surrender of Japan. One of the most relevant shore tours available is going to Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park which contains a museum, monuments constructed to the memory of those that lost their lives in the nuclear attack and what is left of buildings that were destroyed by the detonation of the atomic bomb.
During World War II my grandfather fought in the Pacific and instead of going to the Peace Park I opted to go to Miyajima Island which is a short twenty minute taxi ride from the port and an even shorter ferry ride to the island itself.
As you approach the island the Otori Gate welcomes you as the massive structure during high tide sits just offshore. On the day and time that I arrived the Otori Gate could be reached by walking to it on the sandbar revealed during low tide.
Once onshore one of the environmental problems becomes quite evident and even more so as you walk through the town. The island has a large population of nihonjika deer. The island is overrun with them and they are everywhere including the small town itself.
I have lived in Yosemite, the Sierras and the Rocky Mountains and I know what healthy deer look like and these deer are not healthy. There have been numerous articles written in numerous magazines and websites about the “starving deer” of Miyajima. They lay in the shade during the heat of the day their heads hanging low, they approach the tourists begging for food, it is truly sad.
On a lighter note the small town that greets you as you debark the ferry has many small shops for you to explore. There are also many restaurants which traditional noodle dishes and fresh seafood. If you run out of yen there are also places that you can exchange your currency.
The island of Miyajima is strewn with numerous monuments and shrines. It would take a day or two if not more to see all but unfortunately I only had a few hours. My first stop after having an enjoyable sushi lunch, those that know me know that I am a “sushiholic” I visited some of the many stores lining the streets before heading to the Itsukushima Shrine and the Otori Gate.
The Itsukushima Shrine is a large complex and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is best known feature is the Otori “floating” Gate mentioned above. The Otori Gate is believed to have been erected in the 6thcentury. It has been destroyed many times in the past and the present form was erected in the mid-16thcentury and thought to follow a design from the 12thcentury.
After walking around taking photographs of different pagodas and shrines I started to climb a flight of stairs. About one third of the way up I spotted a trail leading off to the side. Being an avid backpacker one thing that I discovered over the years if there is a side trail there is probably a reason to follow it. In this case as most I am very happy I followed my intuitions.
As soon as I rounded the first bend I was greeted with a handful of stone monks. As the trailed continued a handful turn into dozens and then hundreds. After I got back to the ship and researched them online it stated that there are approximately 500 of these 18 inch wonders.
Each monk seemed to have a different look or air about him. Each was donned in a robe and all of their heads were covered by brightly colored knit hats resembling berets.
They were clustered in groups…
They lined the path…
And some surrounded a deity…
Some had a stainless steel mess bowl that was meant for coins after rendering a prayer.
I could have spent an entire day photographing the stone monks. Everywhere I looked, each angle I peered at through the lens I saw something different.
I was excited about what I saw and the images I was capturing. But at the same time I was overwhelmed with a sense of serenity.
When in Hiroshima I would highly recommend visiting Miyajima Island, in fact I would suggest staying there for a night or two if it is possible with your itinerary.