With the sun high in a crystal blue sky and a day off work Tuesday, Joe and I hopped on the JR train and zipped over the island of Miyajima on on the ferry.
Miyajima is an island on the Inland Sea. It is home to the Itsukushima Shrine, the famous orange shrine that is supposed to be one of the top three sights in Japan. The island's web site claims the shrine was built in the year 593. At high tide, it looks like it's floating.
One word: Glorious!
Not only were the shrine and neighboring Purification Hall impressive sights, but the island was also teaming with tame deer. Those of you who know my love of cute animals understand what a delight this was for me. The deer walk right up to you looking for handouts. They're quite persistent about it, too. I was caught a little off guard when one of them snapped up a paper dropped by a tourist, chewed it right up and swallowed it. Worrying about ill health affects to the cute little buggers, I tried grabbing a stray map away from one baby deer, but it just ripped it away. I even watched one deer trot up to a park bench and gobble up half a pack of cigarettes that had spilled on the ground. Do you think deer get a nicotine rush?
At Joe's insistence, we skipped a close-up view of the five-story pagoda (we'll catch it next time) in favor of climbing Mount Komagabayashi. I admit, this sounded like a much better idea at the bottom of the mountain. Halfway to the peak — 1,755 feet — I was quietly cursing Joe while my thigh muscles balked at the endless stairs rising up around every bend in the trail.
He was redeemed once we made it to the top. You can see why — absolutely breathtaking views of the Inland Sea stretched out before us. It was the perfect reward to such a murderous climb.
Joe literally wringed out his sweat rag at the top. We were completely drenched.
After marveling at the view from the top of Komagabayashi we began the trek to the bottom only to discover partway down that the path was closed due to landslides caused by a recent typhoon, essentially forcing us to trek back up to neighboring Mount Misen so we could catch the ropeway lift back to the bottom. Utterly exhausted, we opted not to drag ourselves up the last stretch to the very peak of Mount Misen on the way to the ropeway station. Technically speaking, Mount Misen is the highest point on the island but personally I thought it looked the same elevation as Komagabayashi, so we figured the view wasn't much different.
Turns out it was a very wise decision. We arrived at the ropeway station two minutes before the station closed for the day. We were the last tourists out, and it was a darn good thing because I don't think I had an ounce of energy left to go any farther, even if it WAS downhill.
My cousin (who also lives in Japan, in Takamatsu) informed me later that we missed the wild monkeys by cutting our climb short, though. That, I found disappointing. But it may not have been entirely a horrible thing. He informs me that people are warned not to meet the monkeys' gaze because the monkeys can perceive this as threatening, prompting an attack.
I knew I'd see a lot of unexpected stuff in Japan, but I never imagined I might encounter disgruntled monkeys! Maybe we'll pay them a visit on our next trip to Miyajima in the fall.