Exploring Miyajima Island, Japan – Photography + Travel Guide
Miyajima Island is a small island less than an hour outside the city of Hiroshima. Considered one of the most scenic spots in Japan, the island is known for the Great Torii Gate which looks like it is floating on the water (during high tide) and the Itsukushima Shrine. There are many other amazing temples and walks on the island and if you have the chance (and time), we suggest you base yourself on the island for a couple of nights. You will find that you pretty much get the island to yourself, as many people visit the island as a day trip. We used the island as our base and did a day-trip into Hiroshima (read more about our Hiroshima visit), whereas most visitors do it the other way round.
The ‘Location Guide’ below is what we covered over the 2 days we were on Miyajima Island. Check out the map at the end of this post and if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment. We hope this helps with your planning.
Above: Itukushima Shrine – you may want to check on tide times if you want to shoot this at high tide.
Planning & Getting Around
If you are visiting Miyajima as a day trip from Hiroshima, take the JR Sanyo Line to Miyajimaguchi Station, which is only a short 10-min walk to the ferry pier. There are two ferry companies here, the JR & Matsudai. If you have a JR Pass make sure you use the JR ferry service as you can use the JR Pass at no extra cost.
Once on the island, you can walk to all the temples and attractions. For those with a bit more energy (and time), there are three hiking trails that take you to the top of Mount Misen, any of these will take about 2 hours to reach the summit from town. Alternatively, there is a cable car/ropeway (there are 2 lines – suggest you take the Momijidani Line (8-seater) as it takes a bit longer but will allow you to take more photos – 1000 yen one way/ 1800 yen return) then a 20-min walk to get you to to the Shishi-iwa Observatory and then a further 30 min steep walk to the summit of Mount Misen. Click here for a map of the area.
As mentioned in previous Japan posts, depending on how much and how far you plan to travel you may want to consider the JR Pass (Japan Rail Pass). The passes are available for 7, 14 or 21 days and must be purchased before you arrive in Japan to get the best price. If you are not sure if you should get the pass, you can use the Japan Rail Pass Calculator to see if it is worth getting.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: In October 2023 the JR Pass will increase in price significantly. In many cases, the pass will not be viable as the cost of individual tickets will be cheaper. We strongly suggest that you use the link to the calculator above to see whether the JR Pass will be worthwhile. For longer trips, the JR Pass is still a good option but for a 2-week visit, we don't think the JR Pass will be worthwhile anymore.
Our gear and setup in Miyajima was very similar to what we had in Fuji Five Lakes. To find out more about our gear read our Exploring Fuji Five Lakes post.
We carried one tripod between us all day while on the island. As we were staying on the island and everything was so close to our accommodation it was easy enough to head back to our room to get the second tripod if needed. The tripod was essential for the shots we took at sunset and during the evening.
Our filters, mainly the NiSi 100mm square filter system got used quite a lot here, especially the NiSi ND Soft Graduated – 3 stop, and the NiSi ND1000 – 10 stop & NiSi ND64 – 6 stop filters as the sun was setting to obtain a slower shutter speed to smooth out the water around the floating torii gate.
The present Itsukushima Shrine dates back to the 12th century and is one of the best-known tourist destinations in Japan. During high tide, it appears that the shrine buildings are floating on water. Once inside there are paths that lead around the shrine and provide a spectacular view out to the Great Torii Gate and mainland.
The ideal time to photograph the complex is at high tide and along the raised waterfront looking back at the shrine. Even better at sunrise, sunset, or during golden/blue hour.
Entrance is 300 yen or 500 yen when combined with a visit to the Treasure Hall. It is a short walk along the waterfront from Miyajima ferry terminal.
6:30 to 18:00 (March to October 14)
6:30 to 17:30 (Oct 15 to end of Nov, Jan, Feb)
6:30 to 17:00 (Dec)
Not something that is easy to miss. Keep an eye out for it as you cross on the ferry. During the day there will be swarms of day-trippers visiting and if it’s low-tide you will not get a photo of it without hordes of people around its base getting their photos taken (see above). However, at low tide, it is an ideal time to photograph locals digging in the sand for ‘pippies’.
Naturally, the best time to shoot the Great Torii Gate is at high tide. Even better if high tide also coincides with sunset by which time most of the day-trippers have returned to the mainland. We were fortunate to get a spectacular sunset at high tide during our 2-night stay on the island. The best location for photos is from water level (see below) or from the Itsukushima Shrine (if it is still open) which will allow you to get more of a straight-on shot without getting your feet wet. Otherwise, it’s just as good from around the raised waterfront as well.
Probably not ideal to shoot in the direction as shown above once the sun has risen. For a similar shot, the late afternoon would be better. In the late afternoon, you will possibly have the “golden hour” light and fewer day-trippers. Try shooting with a combination of wide-angle (16-35mm) & standard (24-70mm) lenses.
Some of the best shots of the floating torii gate are from water level. The tide comes in very quickly, so be prepared to get your feet wet. Many shots we took were taken standing ankle to knee-deep in water. If you’re not prepared to get a bit wet you’ll have to keep moving back and eventually back onto the raised waterfront.
Trail to the Summit
There are three hiking trails that take you to the top of Mount Misen, any of these will take about 2 hours to reach the summit from town. Alternatively, there is a cable car/ropeway to get you to the Shishi-iwa Observatory (20 mins) and then a 30 min steep walk to the summit of Mount Misen (1100 yen one way/ 2000 yen return). This path starts alongside the waterfall & river near the Daisho-in Temple.
Unfortunately, we did not have the time to walk any of the trails or visit the summit as we used our daytime to visit Hiroshima and avoid all the day-trippers to the island. Definitely on our list for another time!
**To use a Square ND64 Filter you will also need a Filter Holder and appropriate adapter ring for your lens thread. Alternatively, we would suggest you use a Circular Variable ND Filter for a shot like this rather than the Square Filter.
If you decide to do one of the hikes on the island, then you are bound to come across a waterfall or two. Shiraito Falls (above) is probably one of the easiest to get to as it really not very far from town. It’s actually right next to Daisho-in Temple. During the day, you will need a tripod (or a rock ) and possibly a Circular or Square ND64 (6-stop) filter** to achieve the slow shutter speed required to blur the water.
To get the smooth, silky effect on the water you will need a tripod and a *6 stop or *10 stop ND Filter (depending on the amount of available light). You can also consider using a Polarizing Filter (CPL) as well to remove some glare from the water. A 1/2 to 1-second exposure will be enough to get the silky blur in the water. If you include a bright sky in your shot you can consider bracketing the shot and blending in software or if you are using a filter holder, a Graduated ND Filter to balance the exposure of the sky with the foreground.
Above: Jizo Bosatsu at the Daisho-in Temple
Above: Once the day-trippers have left the main shopping street is eerily quiet
Although not as well known as the Itsukushima Shrine, the Daisho-in Temple is really one of the most beautiful we visited in Japan. Based at the foot of Mount Misen it has a variety of buildings, statues and halls to see. You could spend hours here. We arrived just as it opened and were only a handful of people there. As you walk up the stairs there are rows of spinning wheels inscribed with Buddhist scripts. There are thousands of Jizo Bosatsu lining many of the paths all wearing knitted caps, caves full of lanterns and many more statues and halls to see and explore (see images above & below)
Entrance is free. The Daisho-in Temple is a 15 min walk from the ferry terminal.
The Old Town
The main street of the town is bustling during the day with day-trippers however early morning and at the end of the day, as you can see from above, there are few people around. Also, we found that there are very few places to eat once all the shops have closed down. If you want shots without people then definitely stay on the island overnight.
The island is also known for its delicious oysters so make sure you try some during your visit to the island.
The main street is just a short walk from the ferry terminal.
You could easily spend more time on Miyajima Island. If you are not combining Miyajima Island with a day trip to Hiroshima then 2 nights is enough. If you are, you may want to consider 3 nights on Miyajima Island. Either way, you will not be disappointed.
Above: Daisho-in Temple
Itsukushima Ferry Terminal
Great Torii Gate
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