Having already seen a major shrine and a major temple on Miyajima, we decided to go up to the top. We later returned, not only to sea level but below it so we could walk close to the floating torii.
Back to Miyajima Island
Just as we were getting ready for bed the previous night, a group of French travelers checked into the hostel. They seemed most interested in finding a place to eat.
The hostel has one shower per floor, with 15–20 people per floor. Fortunately, our floor was less than half full, so it didn't take long for Melody and me to get showered. By the time we went downstairs for breakfast, the French group had already checked out, left their bags to pick up later, and gone out, presumably to the island.
We also got a good start on the day. Before going to the ferry, we stopped by the store to pick up some onigiri for lunch. Not sure what was in them, we figured that odds were we would like them. Then we got onto the ferry, this time along with several cars and trucks, but not many people. We knew we wanted to hike up Mt. Misen, but still hadn't decided on a path. The choices were the long Otomo Course which went along the western side of the island, the Daisho-in Course which goes right by Daisho-in Temple where we were the previous day, and the Momijidani Course which goes through the forest. We took the third option, figuring we had already seen Daisho-in and we didn't want to add the extra distance for the Otomo course. Now on the island, we started out but first stopped to get a couple momiji (similar to the taiyaki I got in Tokyo but shaped like a leaf), one with an and one with pastry cream.
As we passed Itsukushima Shrine, we saw that almost all the water was drained from around the shrine. I grabbed a photo to compare with later.
Following the signs to the ropeway, we veered off at the last moment to the Momijidani Course trailhead. It began as a meandering slope up through the trees following a small river. There were many places with waterfalls, so we were never away from the sound of the water. Then the stairs began. Many more steps than Fushimi Inari, many more than the Old Tokaido Road. We didn't see many people on the trail, but a group descending the stairs looked familiar; it was the French from the hostel. They said we were almost there, and we told them they had a long way to go.
We got to the end of the trail, but we weren't at the peak yet. Our path met up with the trail between the ropeway and the summit; that trail dips down then climbs back up, and where we joined was the lowest point. So more climbing.
Several more people were along this part of the path, having ridden the ropeway up. In fact, I'd say it was a lot more people. There weren't bottlenecks, but it was crowded. People of all ages and abilities were making the trek, which was good to see.
Eventually, we spotted the observatory. We climbed the last sets of stairs and took in the view. Mt. Misen is 1,755 feet high, and since we began from the ferry (even with the decking, let's call it sea level), that's how high we eventually hiked.
We could see the five-storied pagoda near Itsukushima Shrine, and barely see the floating torii between the trees. Hiroshima was in the distance and some small islands on the Shikoku side of Miyajima. On Miyajima itself, we could see what must have been the station for the ropeway on a completely separate mountain, but it didn't register that's what we were about to walk.
And walk we did. Down all the stairs, back to the junction with the Momijidani Course, then up towards the Shishi-iwa Observatory. When we were just outside the station, we turned around and saw the Mt. Misen observatory in the distance. Figuring we had a good enough view, we entered the station, bought ropeway tickets, and got in line.
There seemed to be quite a few people waiting in the line, and we didn't make it into the first 30-person funicular. After those people left, we got shuffled to the next staging area, and we could see the other funicular coming our way. As it came closer, we noticed there was a man riding on a service platform almost on the top of the car. He didn't seem worried, so we weren't.
Into the funicular, and we took the quick ride to the station halfway down the mountain. Into another line which had gondola-style cars. We were seated with a couple and their young son, but all the gondolas going the other way were packed with seven or eight people.
Exiting the gondola, we saw there was a line for people riding up. We exited the station, and the line kept going. It stopped not very far from where we originally veered off to go to the Momijidani Course trailhead. Our timing was good.
Nearby were some picnic tables, so we grabbed one and took out our onigiri. We were right, they were good. Fed, we went back towards the ferry, passed a couple fighting bucks, and saw what the water level at Itsukushima Shrine was almost at high tide. Quite a different look.
On the ferry back, we were standing in line next to a couple from Vancouver, who were on a three week holiday. It was also their first time in Japan.
After a few hours relaxing in the hostel, we went to the JR ticket office at the train station to see if we could get reservations for our trip from Hiroshima to Osaka to Kanazawa. No luck, they were sold out. So far we've had pretty good luck getting seats without a reservation (we've seen people stand on the Shinkansen) so we weren't as worried as we would have been a week or two ago.
Since we had passed on seeing the floating torii at low tide the day before, we decided to do it this night. In addition, it was going to happen after sunset, so we'd also get to see the torii start to glow as the sky grew darker. So that meant, back onto the ferry to Miyajima. There were even fewer people than in the morning; couldn't have been more than a dozen or two people.
On the way to the torii, we went looking for grilled oysters, having remembered seeing several vendors before. There was one vendor, and when we got to the window, there was one oyster left. We split it, and it was really good, hot and briny.
We made it out to the torii with a bit of time before sunset, and the stairs, mostly under water before, were dry and we were able to go down to the ground. People were already gathering, standing on the closest dry land to the torii as they could.
As the sun set, the slightly hazy sky turned through several colors, and at the same time, the lights on the torii caused it to start to glow. At the same time, the water was receding and people were inching closer. By the time the sky was completely dark, and the torii glowing bright orange, people were within a few feet, and several people removed their shoes and waded out to it. They said that the water was indeed cold, but not too bad.
With the timing of the light and the tide, it seemed special to have caught the two as we did.
One last ferry trip
People were still looking at the torii, both around it and on the road above. On our ferry trip back, we both saw the glowing torii and the lit lanterns leading up to it. It was surprising that, while the ferry had a lot of people, it wasn't packed to the point where there was standing room only.
We were ready for dinner, so we went up and down the block (literally, one main block of the city near the hostel) and came across a restaurant that looked good. We went in and had fried oysters and eel tempura, both with soup, salad, and pickles. Very simple, but very well executed. The only downside was our first experience of having someone smoking in the restaurant. In fact, we've run across very few smokers over here (or at least people smoking where we could see them). Even the smoking rooms don't seem to have very many people in them.
After picking up some dessert and more breakfast items at the store, we returned to eat our dessert at the hostel. There were several people in the common area, and one of the staffers was helping people make okonomiyaki. Looked like people were having a good time., but we were ready to settle in for the night, so that's what we did.