By Alexia Kemerling ’20
The mountains that shape the horizon and the densely packed cities make it easy to forget that Japan is an island! Each region we visited impressed me with its unique natural beauty, but traveling to the coast during our second week was one of my greatest moments of awe. We took a ferry to Miyajima Island, in the Seto Inland Sea. The entire island is a shrine and has been valued and honored for its natural beauty for centuries. The great orange Torri gate that marks the shrine status of the island is only on the beach during low-tide, so during high-tide it appears to be floating in the water. It is truly beautiful and an impressive architectural feat.
One of the most popular attractions of the island is the sacred mountain, Mt. Misen. A few of us opted to take the ropeway up to the peak and then hike down, stopping at the many Buddhist temples dotting the mountainside. Though the island is very well preserved, it is still a popular tourist destination and was very crowded, thus there was a short wait for the ropeway.
While waiting for the ropeway to take us up the mountain we found a quiet creek and small waterfall. The water was fairly shallow, so I was able to hop from rock to rock across the creek. I found a nice rock to sit on at the edge of the waterfall. The cover of the trees made me feel like I was truly alone, tucked away in nature—the only sound disrupting my peace was the occasional three tone musical alert followed by a woman’s voice, “Please take a numbered ticket,” advertising the ropeway. I could not help but chuckle at this contrast. In a way this small moment showcased how modern society has shaped traditions. In Japanese culture, nature is viewed as very sacred and powerful. As Japan is vulnerable to frequent natural disasters, they’ve developed a philosophy of respecting and valuing impermanence, especially in nature. This great respect for nature has inspired many people throughout Japan’s history to spend time wandering in the wilderness—a practice especially taken up by religious figures and poets. So while the ropeway announcements continually snapped me back to reality of this island as a popular tourist destination, I also found myself reflecting on how this ropeway, and other features of the modernized island, helps more people partake in the tradition of immersing oneself in nature and that is pretty cool!
When it was finally time for our group to ascend the mountain, I started to get a little nervous about the height. However, once we were tucked into our small rail car, all I could concentrate on was the beautiful views. The trees were so dense that you could not see any of the ground on the island—-and the colors of leaves ranged from a deep evergreen to a bright shade of lime. The ropeway ended a little bit below the summit, so we paused for a moment at the observatory to take in the view of the sea surrounding us before hiking to the summit. The climb was steep, but so worth it. Miyajima is surrounded by several other smaller islands, many of which remain untouched—expect by the occasional fisherman stopping on the shores as they search for oysters, black porgies, and octopuses. I tried taking several photos of our view from the mountaintop, but no camera could capture the beauty! The experience flooded me with appreciation for Japan’s unique geography and the way their culture has maintained its respect for nature, and yet evolved with modernization to both better preserve areas and allow more people the privilege of visiting them.