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 millions of visitors from all over the world, it is a must-see and the closest city to 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 Iwakuni?
The best way to go to Iwakuni is by JR and the train ride is included by the JR Pass. Just visit the ticketing office at the train station and you will be hopping a train and head to Iwakuni station at the Hiroshima train station upon departure. For our day trip, 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!”
The JR journey takes about 40-60 minutes from Hiroshima to Iwakuni. Once we walked out of the Iwakuni station, there was a sign for the bus to the bridge – easy.
Iwakuni and Kintai-kyō
Kintai Bridge (or Kintai-kyō) is an architectural wonder that is so unique that became one of my favorite pedestrian bridges in the world. While you may not be aware, it’s hard to forget once you have seen it. It is the city’s landmark as it straddles 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 does the bridge has these arches? It was because, for years, several bridges that were built before Kintai-kyō were destroyed by a flood in the 17th century, of which the area was ruled by Iwakuni the Domain. The natural situation 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 bigger than I thought, and yes, the size has an impact that makes the bridge more impressive – the three middle arch spans are each 35.1 meters long, and 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.
More, the bridge looked so beautiful, with cherry blossoms framing the bridge so nicely, and there were food stalls set up by the river. Flowers were blooming and birds were soaring over our heads. We paid 300 yen to cross the bridge, and then we checked out the food stalls on the other side; There was 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!
Iwakuni Sushi is a local dish that has been a signature dish in the city for many generations. It is different from the other kind of sushi as it’s a chirashi-zushi as a presersved food, in the style of pressed sushi.
The sushi is serve in big size, with a giant block of layered rice was made, and topped with eggs, laver, Renkon lotus root, fresh fish from the Seto Inland Sea, octopus and other ingredients, and it was then pressed and mold into a giant cube or rectangular shape to serve. This specialty has a sweeter and fresh flavor and it could be found in many local restuarants near the bridge, and certainly the food stalls in the festival.
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 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 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.
How to get to Miyajima?
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 to visit 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 – as you know the time of tidal changs dramatically month to month depending on the moon’s location, and how the forces between the moon and the earth affect the water level of the ocean.
The tidal changes two times a day, but sometimes, the tidal changes in the middle of the night or beyond the opening hours of the shrine. Of course, the perfect time is low tides during sunset, I did walk up close to the torii. While part of the visit is based on luck, if your schedule is flexible, the tidal schedule is quite predictable and the tidal is pretty much released a month before, and it’s available to the public to make a decision about their visiting time. 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.
Floating Torii Gate
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 reaching 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 is the “floating” torii gate – making it THE torii gate in Japan.
The dramatic Torii 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 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.
Itsukushima Shrine is a Shinto shrine and 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 giant 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.
The shrine is a fine example of Shinden-zukuri style – a style that was popular during the Hean period between the 8th century and 12th century. This style is widely used in building royal palaces and noble residences. While a large amount of Chinese architectural elements had an influence on Japanese architecture, the Japanese began to have their own style in terms of their aesthetic and climate needs with Shinden-zukuri. It features an open structure, with paper and wooden doors as partitions of spaces instead of walls.
At that time, shitomi and sudare are created as a space for outsiders to take off their shoes entering a room. Tatami-mats are used in the rooms as Japanese sit and sleep on floors. The striking red and white are some of the common colors that were used on the walls of such buildings.
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 of the Torii and the gorgeous sunset.
The shrine is also famous for its sacred peaks of Mount Misen, extensive forests, and ocean view. There are a lot of treasures at the back of the religious site. Check out the Heike Nokyo, and it consists of thirty-tow scrolls, including the Lotus. Amida, and Herat sutras.
On our way back to Hiroshima, we grabbed some snacks (yummy steam buns) and souvenirs from Omotesando Shopping Street and we still have time to do shopping and have 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 are dressed warm enough on cold days and stand on the deck to enjoy the view of the island from afar!