Day 18: Itsukushima

Today we woke up earlier than we really wanted to… the sun comes up so damned early here (4:30ish). And it seemed to aim directly at our hotel window. There are thick curtains that block out the light… but that made it hard to get up yesterday. So, last night I left them open just a little. That was enough to fill the room with light though, and wake us up at 5. So much for that 7:30 alarm!

At least it meant we were ready for breakfast when it was delivered at 8 by room service. We had ordered two “American Breakfasts” which consisted of our choice of eggs, meat, bread, juice, a salad, and coffee or tea. I also ordered “assorted fruits in season” which were pretty tasty. It was a great way to start the day. Of course, it wasn’t exactly American. Whoever heard of a salad at breakfast? And the bacon was more like slices of ham. It was good though!

We then packed up and headed down to the lobby to check out so that we could make it to Miyajima (an island) before high tide. Luckily the hotel held our bags for us so we didn’t have to deal with it for the rest of the day. We had packed lightly just in case, but we still didn’t want to lug around a full backpack and a laptop all day if we didn’t have to.

Anyhow, the goal for today was simply to see the famed Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima. Everyone has probably seen a picture of this even if they don’t know it… it is one of the most popular icons of Japan. If you have ever seen a big red torii (shrine gate) out in the water, then you have seen what I am talking about. This shrine is built so that when the tide comes in the buildings look like they are floating on the water, and one of the main features of this shrine is a huge torii positioned out in the water. When the tide is out, however, it is just sitting on some stinky sand. Although Sean says it isn’t stinky, it just smells like the ocean.

I am not sure if the time we found for the tide was incorrect, or if it just doesn’t come in very far this time of year. I have now been there twice and have yet to see it with the water high enough that it reaches the bottom of the buildings. It is still a pretty neat place though.

We were very fortunate to have picked a day during which a wedding ceremony was being held. It was very interesting to see an traditional Shinto ceremony. Although, we tried not to gawk too much because it wasn’t so long ago we were getting married in a public place ourselves and we would have been irritated if people just started standing around watching us.

The ceremony was beautifully simple and had an air of ancient tradition. It seemed to consist of a main officiant that chanted and performed other ceremonial rites; a few others dressed in traditional robes that looked like they were from the Heian period, these people mainly seemed to bow and play music; there were also two women dressed in traditional robes that took part in the ceremony by bringing a ritual drink to the bride and groom several times among other things; and then of course there were the bride and groom with what appeared to be their immediate family… only 2 or 3 people on each side. The bride and groom, and their families, each sat in a line opposite each other. I was a little surprised at the distance between them. It looked more like a ritual transaction than of what we think of a happy marriage ceremony in the west. Maybe that is why it is popular for couples to have two ceremonies here… a traditional one and then a stereotypical western wedding that is more of a show than a real wedding.

The ceremony seemed to culminate with a performance of a traditional Shinto dance. It was very interesting to watch. The dancer wore a bright orange costume, and his head was covered with an intricate mask. The dance was slow and deliberate, lasting for at least ten minutes. While the dance was performed, the bride and groom (now seated beside one another) watched with their family members seated beside them.

Once the dance was finished we left the shrine. We didn’t stick around to see if there was more to the ceremony, as we still didn’t want to intrude… plus we were getting hot from standing in the sun so long. We next did a brief tour of some less exciting minor shrines before wandering back towards the station, stopping in at several of the little shops along the way.

The shops mostly had the same stuff over and over, but there were a few with unique items. These were very interesting to browse through, but we have been trying to curb our purchasing because we have accumulated too much stuff to easily pack. I did find a cool manekineko (lucky cat) bank though, and a few more small gifts. We also stopped in at one shop that sold flavored honey concoctions that can be used for various things. They offered us some samples, and immediately Sean wanted some. I liked it too so we bought a box of six varieties. Although, after we realized how heavy it was we weren’t quite sure it was a wise idea! I can’t wait to get home and try it out though.

We also stopped in at a cool little pottery place. There was a little old man sitting in a side room spinning away at his pottery wheel. We were afraid to buy much though, as the nice pieces are not cheap and we would have a long way to travel with it.

That was pretty much our day so far. After that we had some unexciting sushi, so we decided it was just a snack. Then we grabbed a couple more snacks to tide us over until dinner (cheaper than mediocre sushi) and headed for the shinkansen.

We just got back to Osaka and are currently debating what we should do. We will probably end up at Joypolis again, as we have lots of tokens stored there and it seems a good easy and fun way to end a long day.

Will work on pictures a little later…