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Mystical Japan
A Visit to Miyajima Island
by Christina Whitt

View from Mt. Misen
View from Mt. Misen

When one thinks of Japan, they may think of bustling cities crammed with people, or a romanticized world of kimono clad women and tea houses. Many of these things can be found in Japan, but the Japan that most impressed me was the serene, mystical Japan I found on Miyajima Island.

Miyajima Island is a short train and ferry ride from Hiroshima. Approaching the island, beautiful Mount Misen greets you with a majestic presence. Then, the large, red Otorri gate shimmering on the water indicates you are entering a Shinto shrine. This gate is constructed from large beams of wood and supports its own weight as it stand in the sea.

Upon arriving on the island you are welcomed by a greeting committee. The greeting committee, wild deer, run freely throughout the island. The Shinto religion believes that spirits live in nature, including animals, therefore they are unharmed and able to run freely. Along with your new found friends, the deer, you walk along a path to the Itsukushima Shrine, a wonderful floating shrine that is situated on the beach. As the tide changes, water flows underneath the shrine giving the illusion of a floating oasis.

The shrine pays homage to the spirits that reside in nature and also those of the sea. In perfect harmony, the architecture and nature work together to do this. This shrine exemplifies the belief of Shinto unifying all of these elements.

After exploring the vermilion shrine, pagoda, and Noh theater, I went for a hike to the ropeway cable car station to visit the top of Mount Misen. The walk to the station is an uphill passage through an enchanting, peaceful forest. The ropeway cars remind me of the carriages of a large Ferris Wheel, but much more precarious. Traveling on what seems like the tiniest cable, I reached the midway point, only to have to transfer to another car on a separate line. Finally, after the final ropeway journey, I reached the top.

It was well worth the trip! The top of Mount Misen presents the story book vision of Japan found in Zen ink paintings. The smaller, surrounding islands faded off into the mist below. The most special treat of all was to be greeted by hundred of small monkeys walking freely around the mountain. Families of monkeys just gaze as we walked by, enjoying the serenity and beauty of this magical place. The monkeys, deer, trees, sea, and mountains helped me have a better understanding of why this site became a shrine and that the mythical places of Japanese ink paintings really do exist.

Catching the last ropeway down, I looked out the window gazing at the lush forest of bamboo and ferns, and thought how wonderful it is to have visited such a fantastic place. It wasn't what I expected to find in Japan, but was definitely a pleasant surprise.

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