After the poignancy of Hiroshima, we set sail for the small island of Miyajima in the Bay of Hiroshima.
We checked out of our hotel and in line with our normal approach on this trip, we took a train to the ferry port. And as usual the train arrived precisely in line with the carriage indicator sign at which you form a queue. You never fail to be amazed how Japan runs with complete precision.
We arrived on Miyajima with a very small overnight bag as we were going to stay in a Ryokan. Ryokans are traditional Japanese inn, usually family owned, with Tatami mats in the rooms, public areas where visitors can chat wearing traditional Japanese dress (Yakata), public baths and what turned out to be the most incredible food we had so far.
We were greeted by wild deer as we got off the boat. These deer are sacred and thus protected and enjoy complete and utter freedom to roam. They also like any food or paper you may be carrying and accost pretty much all visitors in a totally charming way.
We headed to our Ryokan and were greeted by a warm and friendly owner. Smiling and politeness are also de rigueur in Japan and the staff at this inn were no exception. Once our bag was dropped off, we had the most incredible and pleasant afternoon walking on the island.
Miyajima is home to the iconic Great Tori Gate which gets partially submerged by the incoming tide. The beach is pretty flat and deep, but sadly the Tori Gate was undergoing pretty major maintenance presumably for the Olympics in 2020. Nonetheless, it was great to walk on the beach and enjoy the whole Zen feeling on the island with all of its old buildings in the Edo style.
We had to visit Mount Misen and that was accessible via the Miyajima Ropeway which is in two parts, a small carriage version the Momijidani funicular and a larger carriage the Shishiiwa circular. Given the heat and the amount we had walked already we declined to hike to the top of the mountain but met Samara and Holly at one of the viewing areas. Both were touring around Japan watching the Rugby like us to celebrate Holly’s 30th birthday and having the time of their lives, just like everyone we had met in Japan for this World Cup.
We had booked a private Onsen at our Ryokan. An Onsen is a hot bath where you wash first and then enjoy the natural waters, a sauna with water if you will.
But before that, that we stopped by the Miyajima Brewing Company in the hope we could find a TV to watch the Ireland vs Japan game. There was no sign of any rugby on the island at all. But we met the wonderful Alec and Lizzie at the brewery who had just got the game on their phone. So we asked if we could pull up a few chairs and watch the game with them. We were all obviously supporting Ireland, especially Lizzie who had GWR Ireland shirt on. Alec was Welsh, still is it turns out, and he and Lizzie were also in Japan to follow the World Cup. Before we left them we swapped numbers and established that we would meet up in Shizuoka for the Italy vs South Africa game the following week.
The result of the game was not as we had all hoped, but a huge result for the home nation. We had to run to get to our hotel and our Onsen on time. Of course we were slightly late, but hey ho.
The Onsen was wonderful in every way, and totally relaxing. Once we had our 30 mins we were ready for what was to be the most amazing tasting menu either of us had ever had. And all of this food magic in a family run Ryokan.
Whilst we ate, our room was transformed from a living room to a bedroom. No shoes are allowed on the Tatami mats and chairs have no legs as you sit level to the floor. The minimalist decoration and interior lends an aura of tranquility that’s hard to beat.
We decided to have a walk after dinner and Miyajima at night was even more enchanting than it was by day, given everything is closed and the number of tourists is drastically reduced.
We encountered some people dressed like they had been extras in Dr No, with white Wellington boots and lightly coloured overalls and hard hats who were tracking the incoming tide. We were not really clear what they were doing, but it added to the whole mystique of the place.
A wonderful night’s sleep on our Futons gave way to another bright, sunny and non humid day. Breakfast was a traditional Japanese one, and the food was as exquisite as dinner the previous evening.
When we checked out we met the owner of the Jukieso Ryokan, Sosumu Koyabashi, who was a total gentleman with the kindest eyes, and thanked him for their hospitality. We did some more island exploration and we rounded off a very relaxing few days with some mini beers from the brewery before returning to Hiroshima to get our bags, grab some sleep and get ready for Osaka.