Planning a day trip from Hiroshima
Here is a day-plan for cherry blossoms in Miyajima and Iwakuni from Hiroshima.
The best way to celebrate spring in Japan is, of course, is viewing the pink and beautiful cherry blossom, under the backdrop of historic castles, impressive architecture, and breathtaking sceneries. If you stay in Hiroshima, I recommend two places that you should go on a day trip: Iwakuni and Miyajima.
Why? Given that Miyajima and its Itsukushima Shrine is a national heritage that attracts numerous visitors from all over the world, it is a must-see and the closest city of the location is Hiroshima. There is no way that you don’t recognize the giant Torii that represents the country’s culture – more on that below :).
Another attraction may be less well-known, but still, you may have seen it in a travel book or magazine from time to time. It may not be a stand-alone attraction that would make you travel all this way to see, but then it’s perfect to combine it as a day trip from Hiroshima. I am also introducing Kintai-kyō, a historic bridge that may be less known to the world, yet it will not impress you any less.
How to get to Miyajima and Iwakuni?
These places are conveniently connected by JR and both the JR train ride and the ferry tickets are covered by JR Pass. It is also very easy to get a train ticket at the Hiroshima train station upon departure. The route is simply as follows:
Hiroshima > Iwakuni > Miyajima > Hiroshima
＂if you have a JR pass – the ship ride to Miyajima is included so it’s free!＂
It takes about 40-60 minutes on a train from Hiroshima to Iwakuni. Once I walked out of the Iwakuni station, there was a sign for the bus to the bridge – easy.
From Iwakuni to Miyajima, it takes about 40 minutes by train, and then the ferry pier is right outside the Miyajima Station, which will take you to the Shrine. You can do it the other way round (a.k.a. heading to Miyama first and then Iwakuni), in fact, this plan may be affected by one important factor, which I am going to explain.
The best time to visit Itsukushima Shrine
I did Kintai-kyō first because there is one critical element that may affect the decision of your time visiting Itsukushima Shrine – the tidal change times. If you are keen to see the giant Torii both ways (the high tides and low tides, when you can walk up close to the Torii) then you need to check the time of the tidal changes and it could be any time of the day due to the moon’s location. Of course, the perfect time for me is low tides during sunset, I did walk up close to the torii during that time and it’s absolutely the best.
There are many useful travel websites that will give you information about the weather forecast, tidal table, and cherry blossom forecast, you can simply Google it, or click here to visit one of them.
Iwakuni and Kintai-kyō
Kintai Bridge (or Kintai-kyō) is nothing but an architectural wonder that is so unique that became one of my favorite pedestrian bridges in the world. It is Iwakuni’s best landmark as it straddles across the Nishiki River, connecting to the foot of Mount Yokoyama, where the Iwakuni Castle is located.
Constructed in 1673, it is an elegant wooden bridge with five bold arches on massive stone pillars. But why arches? It was because, for years, several bridges that were built before Kintai-kyō were destroyed by flood in the 17th century, of which the area was ruled by Iwakuni the Domain. It has challenged the ancient architects to design a bridge that is engineered to withstand flooding with strong stone holds and arches supported by complex wooden fixtures. The end result is a stunning bridge that looks like no other.
I was originally expecting nothing else but a wooden bridge (which is basically what it is supposed to be, but it is a famous bridge, still). Surprisingly it was much more GINORMOUS than I thought – the three middle arch spans are each 35.1 meters long, together with the two end arch spans, the bridge is 175 meters long. The moment I got off the bus I saw the five magnificent wooden arches spanning across the running, crystal-clear Nishiki River.
It was the cherry blossom festival at that time and the view was breathtaking~ Flowers were blooming and birds were soaring over our heads. Paid 500 yen to cross the bridge, and we saw lots of exciting food stalls in the carnival; an ice-cream stall that offered over 100 different flavors! A food stall that was grilling Hiroshima Oysters! And turnip-cake-shape-like Iwakuni Sushi!
Go halfsies with a friend to buy a bento box and have a picnic on the riverside, kids were chasing in the water and the Iwakuni castle was standing at the peak of the nearby hill. The wonderfully fulfilling experience ended with a bag of clay-oven cookies to be shared with loved ones at home ~ Yeah, it was definitely a bonus for my trip to the bridge!!
Open Hours: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
Ticketing ¥300 (both ways)
How did I get there: JR from Hiroshima and get off @ the Iwakuni station. There are signs leading people to the bus-stop the moment getting off the bus. Just follow the signs, and don’t worry.
If you are up for going some places higher, head to the Iwakuni Castle. The castle is located at the top of Mount Yokoyama, and it was constructed for 7 years from 1601 to 1608 by Kikkawa Hiroie – an important lord of Iwakuni during the Edo period. Kintai-kyō was served as the main bridge that leads to the castle. But shortly after it was built, the castle was dismantled in 1615 because of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s “One Castle Per Province” policy. The castle was recovered in 1962 and it is listed as Japan’s Top 100 Castles. The Tenshu offers an open view of Iwakuni, to the Seto Inland Sea.
Miyajima and Itsukushima Shrine
After a pleasant picnic light lunch, we took the JR back to the Miyajima station. Again, we just followed the crowd getting off the train and reached the pier. In a short time, we landed on the world-known UNESCO World Heritage Site & the Japanese National Treasure – the Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社).
The shrine was built on an island and the most well-known for is the “floating” torii gate – making it THE torii gate in Japan.
The dramatic gate is about fifty-foot tall and it was built of decay-resistant camphor wood. The first gate was erected in the year 1168, but the current one was made in 1875 after restorations. As I mentioned, The highlight of the site is to see the gate in two ways, either passing through a gate on a “Rokaifune” – “sculls and paddles boat” – or walking up close to the gate during low tides – visitors could walk up the gate and gather shellfish! The boat ride is on the side of the waterfront and passengers will be given a traditional bamboo hat, just to get you in the mood for the boat ride.
We were super, super lucky that day to experience both tidal levels in one afternoon. We took a boat ride through the giant Torii gate, and spent around 1 hour inside the shrine, admiring the magnificent architecture.
The Honsha shine and the Sessha Marodo-jinja consist of 17 buildings and structures that were built on top of the water. Together, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Treasure of Japan. Like the torii gate, the shrine appears to be floating on water during high tides. It’s a holy site that is devoted to the three daughters of the Shinto God of seas and storms, Susano-o-no-Mikoto, and the brother of Amaterasu, the sun goddess.
After that, we had a late afternoon meal at a nearby restaurant, and just in time to walk down, and took some close-up shots with the Torii and the gorgeous sunset. On our way back to Hiroshima, we grabbed some snacks (yummy steam buns) and souvenirs from the Omotesando Shopping Street and we still have time to do shopping and dinner in the Hiroshima shopping district at night. PPERFECT~~~~~~~~~
Open Hours: 6:30 am – 6:00 pm
Ticketing ¥300 (¥500 for combined entry with Treasure Hall) + Extra for a boat ride (but totally worth it if it’s available!)
How did I get there: JR connections and take a JR Ferry @ the Miyajima ferry terminal – and it’s included in JR Pass 🙂 Make sure you dressed warm enough on cold days and stand on the deck to enjoy the view of the island from afar!
Here’s a video showing the incredible sights in the area and it was amazing!