November in Hiroshima usually offers beautiful clear, often warm days to enjoy the autumn colors outdoors. There is no better place to enjoy the change of season than the island of Miyajima.
After setting a personal challenge one Saturday morning to get onto the 7:05 ferry, the effort paid off with rewards of fantastic early morning views including viewing sunrise over the island just before the ferry pushed off.
My basic daytrip plan was to arrive early and leave by 3pm to avoid the crowds and enjoy a more peaceful, simple and beautiful Miyajima experience. My first view of the island was of the normally packed streets in front of the ferry- even the deer seemed surprised to see me so early.
A wander through the main and side streets of this island before 9am offers views that few visitors are offered. Shops and the bulk of visitors don’t arrive until at least 10am. Arriving before 8am allowed me time to wander the sights and take in the early morning views as if I had the island to myself.
My favorite autumn tree is the golden Gingko so I was especially delighted to view the glorious gingko illuminated by the morning sun, standing tall next to the Thousand-mat Hall, Senjokaku.
As I wandered the backstreets around Daishoin temple, I passed a few cafes, bakery and coffee shops that wouldn’t open until 10am, but an early rising, friendly tea-shop owner beckoned me up the stairs to the Hiramatsu-chaya on top of a hill with a smile and a simple English query, “tea?”. It’s not the cheapest place to get a drink, but the view is worth it. After seven coins were exchanged for the tea and cake I soaked in the morning view of the incoming ferries and Tori gate and pagoda with a view of the autumn trees here and there. The warm bowl of green Matcha tea was freshly frothed and served in handmade pottery accompanied by a warm Momiji-Manju spongecake, the signature dessert of the island, it hit the spot.
A short stroll on the nature trail brought me to the gate of grand Daishoin-temple where I slowly made my way up the stairs spinning prayers up to the heavens as I climb. The many interesting temple structures, Jizo statues- all with unique expressions, and so many other significant symbols and views can be enjoyed here.
Whether you are religious or not, a walk around Daishoin has a positive, calming effect on most visitors.
Everything at Daishoin is beautifully framed in autumn by the many trees on the grounds glowing with color. It’s good manners (and kharma) to make at least one offering at one of the donation boxes to express gratitude for passage into this magical place.
Heading through Miyajima’s most famous Momijidani-koen park around 9:30, early morning hikers and photographers were dotted here and there, but it was still quiet enough to think my own thoughts to the tune of the mountain stream and birds in the trees.
Following the clear signs past the ropeway to the Momijidani-course I was warned that it would take at least 90 minutes to the top of Mt.Misen, but it was a beautiful day and I was keen and invigorated by the views and fresh forest air, so up the many stairs I went.
At just under 1km to go until the top, the trail joins a path from the top of the ropeway station and warmed up and now in a t-shirt and swigging water I am met by a different breed of visitors, many dressed warmly for winter, walking the shorter (yet still challenging) path to the summit.
Heading back down around noon, I heard the announcements in English and Japanese for ropeway customers to expect crowds and long lines for those heading to the summit at peak time. I decide to save my knees from the climb down and buy a ¥1000 ropeway ticket which includes passage on both the 30 person gondola and the 8 person version on the lower half of the journey. Great views all the way down.
On my way back through Momijidani Park at peak time was a very different experience as crowds of people fill every path, artists and picnickers under every tree.
On the way back to the ferry I picked up some momijimanju cake souvenirs from an ancient seller, drank a local fig-smoothie along the main shopping street, bought some bread from the backstreet bakery and enjoyed a leisurely Chikara Udon bowl of noodles at Tono-oka Chaya a classic eatery next to the Pagoda.
As I was leaving on the ferry I heard visitors around me happily discussing the highlights of what they saw and ate on their trip to the island. I was certainly amongst the many thinking about how soon I could return to do it all again.