Miyajima – Sacred Island

The really, really fast Shinkansen brought me from Kyoto to Hiroshima at 300kph. Whoa!

Hiro=Wide. Shima=Island. Hiroshima=Wide Island. It’s actually not an island, but a group of islands created by the numerous rivers that come down from the mountain and run through the city. Once I arrived here, I went directly to the ferry station for the crossing to Miyajima Island. Miya=Holy and Jima=Shima=Island. Miyajima=Holy Island. Once again, the Shinto equivalence of holiness with beauty – and the place is indeed very, very beautiful.

Just offshore in the water is located Japan’s most famous vermilion Torii, built originally in the 17th century, and indicating the passage into a sacred location. The island is also teeming with deer that seem to live with us humans quite fine, thank you. They are really pesky and keep nudging for food and when they aren’t provided any, they start chewing on whatever is at hand – like my jacket sleeve.

As I meandered along, I came across a wedding party enjoying some elaborate Shinto dance ritual. I didn’t understand the Bugaku or its significance, but the intricate dance was quite wild, and the live music played by a group of Shinto priests accompanying the dancing priest, was charming. I doubt the Talmudic discussion between the schools of Hillel and Shammai, regarding how one is to dance before a bride, ever made its way here. But, oh boy, this was one big and blustery boogie! I then strolled around the shrines on this most beautiful island, did some shopping and made my way back to the ferry, across the sea and to the bus, from where I proceeded to my hotel.

A little about the hotels: the one where I stayed in Tokyo was lovely. The rooms were divided between the bedroom area and the living area. Very comfortable beds, MUCH better than those I slept in, in China. The hotel in Hakone was exceptional too – very ornate, beautiful gardens, full-service only, no buffet breakfast; very high end. And it had its own “onsen” (mineral hot spring bath – more about those another time). My single room in the hotel in Kyoto was as wide as my bed plus 100cm. I kid you not. I once stayed in Amersfoort, Netherlands in a place like that. Then it was a novelty. Now it was disappointing! But that was made up by my hotel here in Hiroshima which was very, very fancy.

Late that night I went for a walk through the deserted streets of Hiroshima. Passed a Pachinko Palace (more details on that phenomenon will come along with the onsen too) where the gamblers were busy with their hands feverishly working the pull-bar. I also passed a used car lot where the cutest little Mitsubishi city cars were on sale. At 11:15 p.m. I called the front desk and requested a massage. So this 60-year-oldish woman comes to my room holding what appeared to be a bag of tools. She looked like Rosa Klebb. Remember her? She was James Bond’s sworn enemy in “From Russia with Love,” the one with the poisoned spike in her shoe. My masseuse spoke no English, but with lots of “Hai!”s, we managed to make ourselves understood. She strolled into the room, took of her shoes, hopped on the bed and proceeded to roll off the duvet, placed a special cushion on the bed, and told me in hand-language to put on the yukata (robe) that’s hanging in the closet.

Anyway, once she had me on the bed she proceeded to give me one of those good old deep penetrating Shiatsu massages. At the beginning it was seriously painful, but as she continued and I relaxed, it got better. She left, and for the first time since arriving here, I had a good, solid, uninterrupted 5 hours of sleep. Fantastic!