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     Volume 5 Issue 86 | March 17, 2006 |

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A Dream Trip to Miyajima

Hasan Zahid

It was a bright morning of 19 November 2005. A long cherished weekend. Our first pleasure trip outside Highashi-Hiroshima. I rose early in the morning looking askance at the chilly weather. It was the end of autumn and the winter was setting in. We left our centre at about 7:40 by a hired bus, which was waiting on the precinct.

The famous O-torri in Miyajima

There were more than 40 ecstatic participants from different countries divided into groups for the convenience of the trip to Miyajima. Each group had its own guide. We were JICA participants on a 97-day training on environment management. In the bus the participants enjoyed chattering, singing and introducing themselves of each other. The coordinator arranged a kind of game called bingo. I had the luck to win a pack of candy for being able to match the desired numbers. Of course, I didn't have the luck to win first, second or third prize either, as I usually never get!

Our coordinator was briefing us about the trip and about Miyajima. In one and half hours we reached the ferry terminal. A modern and well-equipped pier, along Seto Inland Sea. We boarded the high-speed ferry. I enjoyed the sights and sound of the beautiful blue sea, mountains and greenery. Khaled the other Bangladeshi participant remained busy in taking photographs. Everything was calm and quiet, even the sea. The combination of sea gulls, the blue sea, clear sky and the small islets in the sea rendered me a heavenly feeling.

Miyajima (lit. Shrine Island), also called Itsukushima, is an island about 31 km. in circumference and 30.9 sqkm in area. It is one of the UNESCO-declared three World Heritage sites in Japan.

The island is reached by ferryboat (10-12 minutes) from the pier, which is a few minutes' walk from JR's Miyajima-guchi station (about 30 minutes by train from Hiroshima). A visit to Miyajima is also possible from downtown Hiroshima or from Nishi-Hiroshima Station of the Hiroden (Hiroshima Electric Railway Co.) or by car (30 min.) from Hiroshima.

Miyajima first took on a semblance of its modern appearance when the island figured in the ambitions of Kiyomori. He belonged to the 12th Century. Coming from Western Japan, he felt somewhat outclassed by the tree asking for charity. I posed for a photograph with her. I found Ito-san as our guide. Our small group consisted of only five participants. Ito was very loving and jolly. He knows some English and a very expert guy in describing things. Often we detached from the group and 62-year old Ito was almost struggling to keep us intact! We were provided with lunch boxes and I held mine in a plastic bag. That soon be came the target of the famous deer, which roamed around the whole Miyajima Park. They were wild and at the same time social enough to eat everything you are holding! They may eat your clothes papers and souvenirs, perhaps they might even eat you! I was surrounded by a herd of deer. They seemed very friendly and at the same time aggressive enough to snatch at my belongings. I decided not to give food at this stage as I had already witness the plight of other travellers'.

Maple tree in full blossom
The roaming deer of the park

We caught sight of the Itsukushima Shrine and O-Torii. Ito-san, the passionate guide and the ever-cheerful person came near me and explained the two splendid structures. Standing in the blue sea, the Shrine is widely known for its grand and unique construction. The ground appearance displays the artistic beauty of the Shinden style of architecture. About 200 metres in front of the main shrine and standing in the sea is the vermilion coloured O-Torii (Grand Gate), which is the most noted symbol of Miyajima. Itsukushima Shrine was officially designated in December 1996 as a precious asset of world heritage. The calm wave of the inland sea flows below the shrine. The shrine is of complex design and resembles an ancient palace. The Main Shrine consists of three parts the holy of holies where the goddesses are enshrined, the inner part where only the priests enter, and the outer portion for public worship. The Main Shrine, Heiden (offering hall), Haiden (hall of worship), Haraiden (purification hall) and the corridors have been designated as "National Treasures'.

To get into the sprit of a trip of Miyajima, one should understand the hold this sacred shrine island has had for direction. I requested her to take a picture of me. She did it smilingly, I asked her the way to rope car and with lot of smiles she showed me the way. I said 'arigato gozaimasu' in gratitude.

That was another laborious effort. I had to climb over stairs built in the hillocks. I climbed up and then entered into a darker place high up from the ground. It looked like a resting place. There were picnic tables. Dense trees covered the place. The deep awning of branches and the leaves made the place almost dark. I heard someone calling me. I saw two Nepalese who were in my group eating lunch in a picnic table. They are certainly heading towards ropeway and Ito must be there I thought. Indeed he was there and he was grinning. I told them I had lost my way and how I found them again. Ito asked me to best use my lunch. I made no delay. But alas! Those faithful deer again! They came to me. Meantime they devoured Ito and the lunches of two other Nepalese'! I gave them my burger, banana and French fries. After finishing those they were very eager to eat my empty lunch that it was better to go to other travellers.

One is strongly advised not to miss the peak of Mt. Misen. Mt. Misen (alt. 530 m or 1,739 ft) is densely covered with primeval forest and lies at the back of the Itsukushima Shrine. It can be ascended in 20 minutes by ropeway from the Momijidani (Maple Valley) Park at its foot. At the summit, in spring and autumn especially, the view of the Inland Sea with its innumerable islets is incredibly spectacular. On a misty day, the view maybe disappointing. In autumn, viewing the red maple leaves in the Maple Valley is popular, but one needs to be prepared for crowds both at that time and in spring when the cherry blossoms are out.

At the rope station, I found our coordinator Kawahara-san. She handed me my ticket for rope. By this time I saw none of our other groups members. I got into the carriage. Two Nepalese and of course, Ito was with me. Covered with dense primeval forests, Mt. Misen, the highest mountain on Miyajima Island rise 530 metres above sea level. The mountain has been considered sacred and the object of worship since ancient times -- Ito informed me. We were up in the rope car and below the dense primeval forests, which are the abode of monkeys. Ito advised us not to have a direct look at their eyes if we catch hold one of them when we are down. We flew above 430 metres to reach to the summit. In the summit there are temples relating to Kobo Daishi, a great Buddhist priest, Ito informed me. I saw some unusual shaped rocks and an observatory. A ropeway connects the summit with Momijidani Park. Here we had some photo sessions. Upon request, Kawahara-san took my video in my digital camera. That was very exciting -- far below the top I could see the vast blue sea and numerous small islands which are the typical of the inland sea. Ito showed me the oyster beds -- the oyster extracting spots in the sea. We were supposed to return to a spot near ferry terminal by 3.45 in the afternoon. If anyone loses his way, he would return to this spot where our bus was waiting.

A five-storied pagoda inside Miyajima

On our way back to the terminal I suddenly caught sight of a vermilion-coloured huge structure. This is the 5-storied pagoda. I proceeded to take photograph. But unfortunately, the battery went down right at that moment. Raja, our fellow participant from Nepal came forward and took my photo beside the pagoda in his camera.

The cypress bar-roofed five-storied pagoda, approximately 28 metres high, shows a splendid structural beauty that skilfully combines Japanese and Chinese styles. On the interior of the pagoda, which was designed entirely in Chinese style, there are auspicious patterns such as a dragon, grape vine arabesque, coloured clouds, birds of paradise, and a phoenix, painted in full colour and are well preserved. As one of the structural features, the central pillar of the pagoda, which usually is suspended from the top and extends down to the base in most five-storied pagodas, reaches down only to the second story. Other than the upper and the lower supporting points, nothing is attached to the central pillar, so you can move the central pillar by pushing it at the third or fourth floor of the pagoda. This is one of the reasons why the pagoda is highly resistant against strong winds. After the prohibition of the syncretic religion of Shintoism and Buddhism, the Buddhist images enshrined in the pagoda were transferred to Diaganji Temple, and the pagoda was put under control of Itsukushima Shrine.

In the afternoon at about 4 pm we all assembled together and got into the ferry again. We were tired but we didn't pay any heed to it. We were going back to the warmth of our centre where we would have a full stomach dinner. The journey was over, but Miyajima will always be calling me.


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