Monkeys and Mountains (Miya-jima)

Sunday, July 28, 1996

The Traditional Sunset Shot

Ooh, there’s a TV program on about the Florida Keys, I kept meaning to go there, but never got around to it. Kind of ties in with a dream I had last night about going to see a space shuttle launch but missing it (I have lots of dreams like that, for obvious reasons). The dream came true to some extent, I was about two hours late waking up.

The world is starting to seem rather like London did until recently. I lived near there for several years and when my friends had fewer babies and mortgages to deal with I visited the city a lot. Most of the time I used the underground (subway) and so it felt like a lot of little islands of streets that I knew seperated by vast expanses of the unknown. Only when my friend Pey-Wen came to visit and took me walking around the city did I discover how they all fit together. Now I know my way around parts of Bangkok, Taipei, Tokyo, Hiroshima, etc, but in between is just airports and trains. I hope that eventually I’ll be able to fill in a lot more of the gaps, but that could take a few decades… my world map is slowly filling up with the lines showing the route I’ve taken, and just for fun I thought I’d start occasionally including a table showing the limits of my travels.

The Inland Sea

Still, I now know that Hiroshima is on what the Japanese refer to as the ‘Inland Sea’. It’s not truly landlocked like the Caspian Sea, but more like the Aegean, a body of water surrounded by large islands. In the middle are many smaller islands and lots of boats. From Hiroshima the island of Miya-jima is only a half-hour tram ride and five-minute ferry ride away.

The Floating Torii (At Low Tide)

The island is most famous for the Itsukushima-jinja shrine, which appears on many tourist posters and in many Japanese guidebooks. For many centuries no commoners were allowed to set foot on the island, so to visit the shrine they had to come by boat and pass through the ‘floating torii’ (the large wooden square archway on the approach to a Japanese shrine) out at sea. There are also a number of very large parks, and Mt Misen in the middle. I stocked up with a large bottle of drink and some munchies, then headed out.

The first thing I noticed after getting off the ferry were the deer wandering around and dozing in the shade of the trees in front of the souvenir shops. They seem perfectly tame and were quite happy to be petted by the kids. They did, however, take a very strong liking to any bags which smelt even remotely of food.


Down on the beach people were hunting for things amongst the gungy seaweed which covered the lower half, and more deer were fighting over the remains of a large cardboard box. The tide was low, so I walked out towards the torii for a closer look. The red paint was faded, and the lower four feet or so covered with barnacles. Just above them many people had inscribed graffiti. The seaweed appeared to be alive with crabs, and more rushed away into deep holes whenever I put a foot down on the wet sand.

Having satisfied my curiosity, soaked my trainers and socks, and worked out that I wasn’t going to see the famous sight until high tide, I decided to head for the top of Mt Misen. The weather was too damn hot so I invested $15 in a cable-car trip. Even that required a long walk through the park to find the bottom of the cable. That would have been very nice on a cool day. As I walked through a single-file group of deer adopted a collison course, but must have decided at the last minute that I had no food, and turned away.

Buddha Bear?

The cable-car trip was quite fun and gave some good views of the city from above the trees. I was sure glad that I’d decided to take it and not try to walk – the mountain top was much further away than it appeared from the description in the guide book. At the top visitors were requested to leave bags in lockers because it was also a monkey sanctuary. I’d already finished my 1.5 liter bottle of apple-juice drink so I dumped it and grabbed a can, which only lasted a few seconds.

Outside the terminus were some funny warning signs, including one drawing of a monkey sinking his fangs into the arm of a tourist who’d tried to stare him out. Above was a viewing area and some seats, from where you could see most of the other islands in the Inland Sea. I considered calling that the peak and going back, but hell, I was almost there… or so I thought.

Funny Signs

I walked past the crowds of monkeys and along the path, which rather worryingly began to descend. It slowly began climbing again then weaved around the mountain past various shrines, one containing a pot over a fire which has supposedly been burning since around 800CE. Some were closed as this was now quite late in the day.

Mt Misen is claimed to be 526m tall, but seems closer to infinite. As in Zeno’s Paradox, just when you think you’ve reached the top you find another set of steps about half as long as the previous set. I was soon glad that there was a promised rest house at the summit. The steps began to pass through rocky areas, then came to a stop at a small shrine. Oops… no rest house. Luckily I spotted a gap between two large rocks, and it was hidden behind.

Recovering At The Summit

Prices were high, but the view from the roof was great, with Hiroshima, the surrounding towns and the islands spread out in front of me. I was then really glad that I’d gone to the trouble of going up there. However, I didn’t have much time to look around as I needed to be back for the last cable-car, so soon I was on my way back down.

By the time I returned to the shore the shrine was closed but the torii was surrounded by water. I snapped off a few pictures and took the ferry back to Hiroshima, then changed my clothes and finished off the day at a Japanese curry shop. Their idea of curry is certainly different to the English variety, but still very nice. Sort of rice and bread-crumb coated chicken with curry sauce. Cheap too…

Where I’ve been

  • Furthest North: John O’Groats
  • Furthest South: Singapore
  • Furthest East: Tokyo
  • Furthest West: San Francisco

Travel Tips

  • Don’t forget nail clippers!
  • Don’t buy 1/2 liter bottles of sunscreen, shampoo, etc – each weighs about half a kilo and you can buy it as you travel.

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