Itsukushima, also known as Miyajima, is a small island in Hiroshima Bay.
It is an easy train ride and ferry from Hiroshima Station. Take the JR Sanyo line to Miyajimaguchi, and when you get off the train it is easy to find the ferry terminal (there are signs and you can also just follow the people), which is about a block up. You can go on either side and take either ferry. Buy a return ticket from the ticket counter, and it takes only 10 minutes to reach Miyajima, and all of the cool sites are walkable once you arrive.
Great Torii Gate- A gate has been in place in this location since 1168. The current gate dates back to 1875, and was built with decay-resistant camphor wood. The torii is about 16 meters high, and is the boundary between the spirit and the human world. The vermilion color is considered to keep evil spirits away. The first time we saw the gate was at low-tide, because we chose to stay on the island overnight we were able to see it at mid-tide and high-tide too.
Itsukushima Shrine- the chief Shinto shrine of Aki Province, devoted to the worship of goddesses to whom Kiyomari owed thanks. The shrine is dedicated to the three daughters of Susano-o no Mikoto, Shinto god of seas and storms, and brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu. The present shrine dates to the mid-16th century. Retaining the purity of the shrine is so important that since 1878, no deaths or births have been permitted near it.
Daishō-in Temple- is one of the most prestigious Shingon temples in the western part of Japan. Teh Shingon sect is known as esoteric Buddhism in Japan. The sect teaches that humans can attain enlightenment through rituals combining physical, spoken, and mental disciplines. Upon walking up to the temple there are hundreds of small rakan statues wearing tiny hats and scarves along the winding pathway We saw the Fudo Myo-o cosmic Buddha characterized by a fierce face to show his determination to destroy evil. You can throw some "wish" balls to a bucket, and then walk up the stairs spinning the Mani wheel as you go, which is believed to invite blessings equivalent to reading one volume of Heart Sutra. There were many different halls at this temple, and so many wonderful and unique things to look at. There was one section dedicated to the Dalai Lama, and there was the Henjyokutsu Cave, a magical cave aglow with lanterns where the sand and the principal Buddhist icons of the eighty-eight temples of the prestigious pilgrimage route on Shikoku. Worshippers believe that they are given the same blessings as people who make the journey to all the temples on the route. I really enjoyed visiting this temple and felt happy and at peace as we left. *Because we stayed the night we got to go early before the tour busses, so it was a special experience with very few people there.
Deer of Miyajima- Deer roam freely on Miyajima, so as soon as you step off the ferry you will see them everywhere, and they are very friendly. "Miyajima is home to more than a thousand Sika deer... — According to folklore, the deer in Miyajima (also known as Itsukushima) were considered sacred messengers from the gods. Until 1637, killing one was punishable by death. They're still protected by Japanese law today, but not quite that harshly. In most places, deer are difficult to approach, running away when you get close to them. The Miyajima deer are different. You can easily pet them or feed them." From website- www.thisinsider.com
Miyajima has a traditional food street where there are many food stands that started to provide food to pilgrims and fisherman and now provides food to the many tourists. There were three main foods I wanted to eat in Miyajima- Momiji Manju, oysters, and eel. Foods that Miyajima is known for.
Momiji Manju- I started with getting Momiji Manju, traditional steamed maple leaf filled with red bean paste, made on the island in the late 19th century, and other flavors to-go at a stand that I can't remember the name of, but they were delicious. The chocolate ones were my favorite. Then I learned that you can also get them fried, so I had to try that. I went to Momijido to get fried Momiji Manju with traditional red bean paste, and it was yummy.
Miyajimaman- I stopped off at this food stand to get a delicious eel bun (they have many other flavors) that they've been making since 1912. Yum!
Miyajima Brewery- We got different oyster treats at stands during the day, try Momiji at one of the stands, it's a great curry oyster bread, but for dinner we chose a restaurant that serves local beer and oysters. We got fried, raw, and gratin oysters and all of them were fantastic! The atmosphere was relaxing with large windows overlooking the water, and the service was wonderful, as always in Japan.
Cafe Lente- A cool cafe with a view of the Great Torii Gate, but that wasn't crowded with tourists. I got a local Miyajima beer and wrote some postcards while looking out at the gate. They played good music, and the vibe was of a hip, locals cafe on a tiny island.
Kubota- a gourmet sake store filled with beautiful bottles of sake at all price levels. They only take cash, and make sure you bring a bit because they have tons of options. *the store doesn't come up on English google maps, but it is easy to find. It's located on Machiya street, a few blocks away from the main shopping street. Besides sake, they also sell cute souvenirs.
Bambino- I think this is the only bar that stays open "late" in Miyajima. It is an early, early town. It's a normal bar in an extraordinary place. The bartender was friendly, and it was worth stopping in.
Guesthouse Kikugawa- This was my first time staying in a traditional ryokan, and I absolutely loved it. It was a very pleasant experience with a kind owner that showed us to our room, and turned the heat on for us. The room was clean, spacious, and comfortable with robes and slippers laid out for us.
Tip- If you can stay the night I highly recommend that you do. The best experience for me was when the island was deserted, and we were the only two people walking down the lantern lit streets at night, and in the morning we were the only ones walking the streets before the first ferry group arrived, so that we could experience all of the special sites almost completely alone.
That being said, almost every place closes around 17:00-18:00, so plan accordingly for that.