Monday, July 6, 2009

A Fortnight in Japan - Day 10 on Miyajima (from Hiroshima)

On Day 11 (May 11th), we took an early train and ferry out to the island of Miyajima (another name for Itsukushima). The ferry takes a nice, circuitous route from the mainland to the island, so you have a lot of time to check out this sight:

The huge "floating O-torii"; its position in the sea marks the entire island as a Shinto holy place.

The O-torii dates from 1875, and is 16m tall. Not surprisingly, it is one of Japan's most famous sights. It is part of the Itsukushima shrine, which you come to soon after landing on the island. Because of its position right on the shore, the shrine itself is kind of built on 'stilts' so that it can stand the changes in tide. When we arrived in the morning, there was water throughout, but by the time we left in the mid-afternoon the water had receded and you could walk on the ground between walkways. you can actually walk out to the big torii at low tide, though we thought it was cooler when the tide was high and the bright orange paint was reflected in the water below. We considered coming back at night (but didn't end up doing so).

Itsukushima shrine, from the ferry

One of the walkways at Itsukushima shrine. I'm loving all the orange in this country!

Around the shrine, we were on the lookout for momji-manju, maple cakes that are basically the same as the tayaki fish cakes we had in Tokyo (pastry cake around red bean or other filling). The maple leaf shape is unique to the area, and we saw many stores with automated machines for making them that clanked and hissed and spit out perfectly formed little cakes.

Reminiscent of a krispy kreme, no?

After Itsukushima-jinja, we headed inland and upward to the main temple complex, Daisho-in. This temple was really interesting, the most accessible of all the ones that we visited over the whole trip, I think. First of all there was a really detailed English pamphlet (not the norm), but also pretty much all of the buildings were open and free, so you could enter and explore at your leisure. Miyajima is revered as a holy place, so holy that no one is allowed to be born there or to die there (I'm not sure how the logistics of that actually work). Some of the buildings housed what we thought of as 'shortcuts' to enlightenment - one contains representations of all 88 temples that make up an 88-temple, 1200km pilgrimage around Shikoku island - if you walk through this building, they say it is like you have done the whole thing (sweet!) Also, if you turn each of the metal cylinders that line the steps up to another building, it is like you have read the scrolls (Sutra buddhist text) contained inside each one - if only journal articles worked that way!

In one of the buildings, there was this amazing sand drawing (called a mandala) that took two Tibetan monks two weeks to create. They displayed photos showing the monks working on it - what intense concentration! They basically used scoopulas to pour the sand onto a platform in a really intricate design. Some of the lines of sand were a few millimeters wide - what happened when they made a mistake?

The mandala, made entirely of poured colored sand. Beautiful and intricate!

The grounds of the Daisho-in were scattered with tons of little statues. Some of them were really cute, and people would leave coins or small trinkets on them as offerings to the deities they represented.

The cute little statues say: Speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil

After Daisho-in, we basically snacked our way back to the ferry terminal. We sampled some grilled oysters (yum!), strawberry shaved ice (pretty cool, as rather than pouring syrup on plain shaved ice, they shaved the ice off of a large block of strawberries frozen in ice), an oyster croquette, and these:

Yes, we got our momji! We sampled some of the plain ones, but were very excited to try this stroke of genius: deep fried red bean and cheese momji!

A few more photos from the island:

An adorable firetruck

Pretty red and green maple trees

Leaving the holy island, we ferried, trained, and bused out to Iwakuni, for the sole purpose of visiting the Kintai-kyo, or "Ribbon Sash Bridge." Originally made entirely without nails, this is a really picturesque bridge that has 5 arches.

The Kintai-kyo - just like in the paintings!

Our reflection in a park on the other side of the Kintai-kyo

After that, we bused and trained back to Hiroshima and ate dinner at the station again. When I went to sleep that night, I was excited that we would be moving on to Kobe in the morning, but sad when I realized that that meant that we had reached our western-most destination, and we were turning around to start the return leg of our trip.

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