Hiking Mt Misen on Miyajima

Mt Mizen, Miyajima, Japan
The sacred Japanese island of Miyajima (Itsukushima), which lies off the coast near Hiroshima, is famous for its “floating” torii gate and shrines. However, Miyajima also has a 535-m-high mountain, Mount Misen, that features small temples, a waterfall, and great views at the top. To me, hiking Mt Misen and taking in the great views at the top was my favorite part of visiting Miyajima, as opposed to seeing the “floating” torii gate.

There are several routes to Mt Misen, however I chose to take the one at the back of Daisho-in Temple, which lies at the foot of the mountain. Note if you don’t want to hike, then you can take a cable car up. Daisho-in Temple is worth a visit before you hike, as it features attractive halls, a cave shrine, and dozens of small stone Buddhas.

Once I got on the trail, it was straightforward. As I continued upwards, I passed a waterfall that flows into a rocky stream. There are vantage points along the way where I was able to look down at the floating torii gate, which will look very tiny. I also saw that much of the island is heavily forested, which isn’t surprising given the island’s population numbers about 2,000 and there isn’t any industry. I also encountered signs urging you to watch out for vipers or “mamushi – deadly poisonous snake.” Good thing I didn’t encounter any. There is also a notable man-made stone stream structure from where water flows out.

Near the top, there are a few diverging paths but just remember to stay on the main trail. There’s a temple hall where you can take a breather. When I reached the summit, I enjoyed really beautiful views of the Inland Sea, the island, and the mainland. I’d say the views of the sea were among the top three I’ve ever seen in my life. The observatory at the summit features benches and washrooms.

It’s possible to hike back down but I decided to take the cable car instead. The Shishiiwa cable car station is a little further away from the summit, about 15-20 minutes, and there are fine views there as well.
Mt Mizen, Miyajima, Japan Mt Mizen, Miyajima, Japan
Miyajima, Japan
“Floating” torii gate from the mountain
Mt Mizen, Miyajima, Japan Mt Mizen, Miyajima, Japan
Temple guards and a temple (below) near the top
Mt Mizen, Miyajima, Japan Mt Mizen, Miyajima, Japan   Mt Mizen, Miyajima, Japan Mt Mizen, Miyajima, Japan

Japan travel- the holy island of Miyajima

Miyajima, Japan
Near the city of Hiroshima lies the holy island of Itsukushima or Miyajima, as it’s more commonly called. Tiny and sparsely populated, Miyajima is one of Japan’s most well-known destinations as it is where the famous “floating” torii gate lies, in the waters just off the coast of Itsukushima Shrine. Also called the “Island of the Gods,” Miyajima has been a place of worship for over a thousand years.

You’ve probably seen this giant orange “floating” torii gate in photos or blogs, as I did before I came to the island. However, Miyajima also features several temples, in addition to Itsukushima Shrine, and a 500m-high mountain that provides great views of the island and the Inland Sea.

Miyajima’s “floating” torii gate is among the first things you’ll notice when you come across on the ferry from the mainland. The torii gate certainly “floats” during the day when the water is at high tide, and you can get a closer view from the shore of Itsukushima Shrine. However, I only realized that in the late afternoon, the water recedes from the shore during low tide which allows you to walk right up to the giant orange torii gate. The low tide exposes the foundations of the torii gate, which are firmly rooted to the beach “floor,” hence it isn’t really floating (see below).

Torii gate aside, Itsukushima Shrine is an important temple. Dedicated to three daughters of a Shinto god, Itsukushima is considered so important that since 1878, no births or deaths have been permitted near the shrine. That means pregnant women on the island, as well as the very sick or elderly who are near death, are expected to leave for the mainland to give birth.

On the way from the ferry pier to Itsukushima Shrine is a street lined with shops and restaurants, as well as wild deer wandering all over the place. As with the city of Nara which is well-known for its deer park, the deer here are friendly and curious, walking up to people and letting themselves be fed. Along the coast is a tiny beach which was just a little bit wider than a sidewalk.

The most important temple, Daishō-in Temple, is located in a pleasant complex on the lower slopes of Mt Misen. There are several halls as well as dozens of small stone statues and even a small cave hall. At the back of the temple complex is the start of a hiking path to Mt Misen. I took this trail, which passes through a waterfall and a few small temples before reaching the top. I write about the hike in a separate post.

I also enjoyed visiting Senjokaku (Toyokuni Shrine), a wooden temple with a large, open interior built in 1587. While it was dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Japan’s three great warlords that unified the nation, Senjokaku’s construction was stopped after Toyotomi died. But I think this state of incompletion adds to the charm of the temple. Its open roomless layout means it’s a good place to sit and enjoy the breeze while taking in the many paintings hung on the ceiling.

Next to Senjokaku is a five-storey pagoda that was built in 1407, making it older than Senjokaku.

How to get there: Take a ferry from the mainland to Miyajima, which takes 10 minutes. The ferry terminal on the mainland is a short walk from Miyajima-guchi train station. Miyajima-guchi station is a 25-minute train ride (some trains may take longer) from Hiroshima. There is also a direct ferry from Hiroshima to Miyajima.
Miyajima, Japan Miyajima, Japan
Senjokaku (Toyokuni Shrine), above and below
Miyajima, Japan
Miyajima, Japan
Daishō-in Temple (above and below)
Miyajima, Japan
Miyajima, Japan
Miyajima’s deer are a friendly bunch
Miyajima, Japan
However, the island’s deer aren’t big, as the size of this buck shows
Miyajima, Japan
Itsukushima Shrine
Miyajima, Japan
Miyajima, Japan
Miyajima, Japan
The massive toii gate during low tide
Miyajima, Japan

Goodbye Miyajima!

Visiting Taiwan’s Lanyang Museum

Lanyang Museum, Yilan, Taiwan
When it comes to museums, Taiwan doesn’t seem to have any famous ones other than the National Palace Museum, which showcases imperial Chinese treasures brought across from China by Chiang Kai-shek in the mid-1940s. But in reality, Taiwan has several great museums that are impressive, beautiful, and feature fascinating exhibits. One of these is the Lanyang Museum, in Taiwan’s Yilan County, which I visited recently.

At first glance, from the side, Lanyang Museum resembles a large, sleek rock soaring out of the ground. Indeed, the museum was designed in the shape of a cuesta, a tilting stone escarpment that is common to Taiwan’s northeast coast. The museum is surrounded by a small lake with ducks and other birds.

Located on Taiwan’s northeast coast, Yilan County has an interesting geographical profile because it includes flat land sandwiched between mountains and the ocean. Yilan thus features abundant forestry, rice, and marine fisheries resources. The Lanyang Museum bears homage to this with separate levels devoted to Yilan’s mountains, ocean, and plains.
Lanyang Museum, Yilan, Taiwan

The museum features an attractive collection of dioramas, artifacts, and historical photos. Among the most interesting cultural exhibits is a model of a wooden platform which people compete to climb up in the Zhongyuan Qianggu festival, a late 18th century festival. There are many life-size displays of farmer and workmen mannequins engaged in irrigating or other kinds of work. It was interesting to see a yamu boat, used by farmers to harvest rice in their paddy fields.

Yilan also has a significant aboriginal presence, especially the Kavalan tribe (who the famous Taiwanese whisky brand is named after) who have lived in Yilan for 1,000 years and traditionally lived near rivers and streams. Han settlers came later in the 18th century and gradually pushed the aboriginals out of their lands.

There are an actual fishing boat, which you can climb into, and a traditional boat, as well as the skeleton of a Bryden’s whale which washed up dead ashore. The museum has an open, colorful and spacious layout that provides a nice ambiance to enjoy the exhibits.

How to get there: From Taipei, you can take the train to Yilan’s Wai’ao Station and walk to the museum, or take the long-distance Kuo-kuang 1877 bus at the Nangang Exhibition Center bus stop, which stops right at the museum.
Note: The museum is closed on Wednesdays. Continue reading “Visiting Taiwan’s Lanyang Museum”

Hong Kong’s new high-speed rail heralds a dubious era

A new era began in Hong Kong on the weekend as its high-speed train to Guangzhou began running on Sunday. Hong Kong is now connected to China’s high-speed network, which is the world’s largest. Yet this is far from a joyous occasion because not many Hong Kongers are rejoicing. The opening of the high-speed train also saw the imposition of mainland Chinese authority and law on Hong Kong soil. This is because the immigration area at the Hong Kong terminus is staffed by mainland officers and is under mainland Chinese law.

Why this is significant is that it goes against the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, that was supposed to guarantee Hong Kong’s autonomy until 2047 under the One Country, Two Systems arrangement. This means while Hong Kong was handed over to China in 1997 by the United Kingdom, Hong Kong would be able to govern itself, and maintain its own courts and laws and police force. This is why Hong Kong can enjoy freedoms such as having proper rule of law, uncensored internet and a free press and civil society. All this has been coming under threat in recent years from China’s encroaching interference but the imposition of Chinese authority in the high-speed terminus formalizes this and sets a scary precedent.

The high-speed train didn’t come cheap at US$11 billion and neither was it necessary. There is already a direct train to Guangzhou that takes just two hours from Kowloon, and the East Rail (local train) runs to Shenzhen. In fact, there are already multiple ways to get from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. The real goal of the high-speed train isn’t to benefit Hong Kong, but to benefit China by binding HK more closely and eroding the distinctions between China and HK.

Another major project is the Zhuhai-Macau-Hong Kong (ZMH) bridge which comes into operation later this year. Running from Zhuhai through Macau to HK, the bridge is the world’s longest sea bridge (part of it is underground) but again, there is little benefit to HK. Costing a whopping US$20 billion that is shared among the 3 cities, the bridge meets no real need and has caused delays, the deaths of workers, and a cost overrun of at least US$1.5 billion.

These white elephants cost a ton of money but the real intention is to integrate HK into the mainland. And China, or rather Xi Jinping, its leader and “emperor,” has come up with a grand plan called the “Greater Bay Area” (GBA) to facilitate this. The GBA is intended to “integrate” HK, Macau, and 9 major cities in China’s Guangdong Province to create the world’s biggest bay area that would also be a tech and financial powerhouse.

Similar to the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), which some of you may have seen mentioned in the news, the GBA is full of grand promises that is centered on massive infrastructural projects and economic development. I recently wrote about the GBA for Foreign Policy’s website. I have a very critical take on the GBA and its projects, the high-speed rail and the ZMH bridge, which I see as reflective of the GBA’s flaws. That its wasteful, of dubious value, and ultimately has a political goal of binding Hong Kong to China.

The weekend also saw another dubious distinction for Hong Kong as the city’s government banned a tiny political party, the Hong Kong Nationalist Party. It’s the first time this has happened, with the reason cited being “national security” since the HKNP advocates independence from China. This is a huge blow to Hong Kong’s free speech environment if one cannot openly talk about independence. As political dissent becomes a crime, this makes Hong Kong more like China, where people can be even arrested for criticizing Xi or the Communist Party online, not to mention in public. In Taiwan, for example, people can still openly wave China flags and call for unification with China even though China is hostile to Taiwan. And in the US, I’m sure people can openly call for secession from the union.

It’s a sad sign for Hong Kong that closer ties with China mean white elephant projects and threats to free speech and freedom of expression. I’m not optimistic about the near future for Hong Kong at all.

Random Taipei photo roundup


I was just doing a quick search through my posts and I realized I don’t often post about Taipei. This is even though it’s been my Asian home for a decade now and is one of my favorite cities in not just Asia, but the world. As most people already know, Taipei is the capital of Taiwan, and is Taiwan’s political, commercial and cultural center.

It is also one of East Asia’s major metropolises, though perhaps more laidback, less crowded, and smaller than Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul etc. For me, Taipei is ultra-convenient and safe, and most importantly, has the right balance of being modern and relatively cosmopolitan while not being too crowded (like Hong Kong), hectic (Tokyo) and overpriced (again, HK). There are always many events going on, but it is also easy to relax. There is a distinct local character that is both busy and pleasant. Besides all that, what I really like is that Taipei is surrounded by hills and mountain ranges, which means hikes are always nearby and easy to get to.



This bird, which I have no idea what type it is, puffed up its throat and didn’t care that it was in my way.

Beitou Library is a fantastic sleek, wooden building that is also “green.” It is powered by solar panels, uses rainwater for its toilets and taps, and is designed to maximize natural lighting and reduce heat.

Taipei Free Art show, which as its name says was a free showcase of local (and one Japanese) artists


Taiwan historical activist, (above) who had pamphlets and photos of Sun Yat-sen, and a map of China with Taiwanese names imposed on it, reversing the idea of Taiwan being China (below)

Continue reading “Random Taipei photo roundup”

Taipei hiking- taking in 101


Taipei’s skyline has long been dominated by one building, Taipei 101, one of the world’s tallest buildings. Nowadays, it still is but it’s got company in the form of the Nan Shan Plaza and at least another skyscraper is under construction in the area. The best way to get an up-close view of Taipei 101 and its surroundings is Xiangshan (Elephant Hill), a small nearby mountain. There is a popular spot consisting of several boulders that is ideal for selfies but there are more than one vantage point. Besides Taipei 101, you can get sweeping views of the city as well as the northern hills.