Miyajima (宮島) is the common name for Itsukushima (厳島) , a beautiful island in the Inland Sea. It is part of Hiroshima Prefecture and close to the city of Hiroshima. For most of Japan’s history, it has been a spiritual spot and home of Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage site where the goddess of the sea is worshipped. About 1200 years ago, Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, did part of his ascetic training there, and many miracles are associated with his visit.
The island boasts three mountains, the central being Mt. Misen which is accessible by hiking trails and ropeways. It has sandy beaches around its perimeter. Though only 9 by 4 kilometers (about 5.5 by 2.5 miles) large, the island boasts a wealth of historical sites sure to interest all types of visitor.
There is a small town around Itsukushima Shrine which is accessible from the mainland by ferry. The main street has traditional old charm and is lined with restaurants, souvenir shops, and small ryokan hotels. Most of the major points of interest are wheelchair and stroller accessible and are within easy walking distance of the ferry.
Be sure to get a walking map, available in English and other languages, at the ferry terminal before heading out to see everything.
Most of the main sights can be enjoyed in a day, but staying in one of the lovely ryokans makes a memorable addition to any vacation. Miyajima is famous for its autumn foliage, so most places are booked well in advance when the colors are at their height. The main street is also very crowded and hard to maneuver on holidays and weekends, so try to plan your visit for a weekday if possible.
The island is populated by deer which are considered messengers of the Shinto gods. They are quite tame and will approach very close; watch out because they will grab and try to eat anything that looks edible, including clothing and paper. Another interesting detail about the island is that it is considered so sacred that no one is allowed to be buried there to keep it pure for the gods.
For more information: http://www.miyajima.or.jp/english/index.html