The Critters of Miyajima


This blog entry about the events of Tuesday, October 05, 2004 was originally posted on October 12, 2004.

DAY 353:  One of the iconic and most photographic structures in Japan is the Ohtorii Gate, a bright orange gateway marking the entrance to the Itsukushima Shine on Miyajima Island.  This island was a daytrip away from Hiroshima and I decided to check it out at Liz’s suggestion.  Besides, with all the post-A-bomb peace memorials in town, I was getting a little “peaced out.”

A twenty-five minute train ride and 7-11 break later, I was on the JR ferry to Miyajima, only about ten minutes from the mainland.  The bay was peppered with stationary rafts that served as artificial reefs to attract oysters — one of the creatures the region was known for.  Aside from oysters, the other obvious critter indigenous to the region was deer.  As soon as I got off the boat, deer were all over Miyajima as if they were citizens of the island like people:  hanging out to the market, going to the pay phone, and general loitering by a food stand.  Everywhere I went a deer was around, just sort of hanging out without getting out of the way since none of them were really threatened by man.  One curious one even approached me and tried to lick my balls through my pants.

“Whoa, hey there!”

The other critter that would possibly make its appearance was the Japanese monkey, but there was no sign of them.

SEVERAL GROUPS LINED UP to take their photos with the famed Ohtorii Gate (picture above) in the background, which had been under reconstruction in scaffolding the time Liz visited the island some time back.  Perhaps it was always something on the island; this time the Torii was fine, but the famous 12th century Itsukushima Shrine that it led to was under repairs after it had been damaged a couple of weeks back by “Songda,” Typhoon 18 — much to the dismay of the two French girls I met that came to Miyajima specifically to see it.  They left soon after briefly visiting the 15th century Five-Storied Pagoda, which flanked the 16th century Senjokaku Temple, created by Hideoyoshi who had died before giving it a matching paint job.

After a quick bit of grilled fresh Miyajima oysters, cooked up and shucked by a friendly old woman, I went to go the other “must see” on the island:  the top of Mt. Misen, the island’s highest peak at 529 meters high.  There was a cable car available to go up the incline, but at about $20 (USD), I thought the price was steeper than the actual mound.  I proceed on foot on one of four hiking trails up the hill, the one that started from the picturesque stream by Momijidani Park.  Going on foot up the stairs, as exhausting and sweaty as it was (don’t ask me why I decided to lug my laptop to Miyajima), was good training for me if and when I tried to go up Mt. Everest.  Perhaps I was the only one to go on foot (aside from more deer) because the only people I saw on the trails were only going down after taking the cable car up one-way.

“You are very courageous,” a woman in a French accent said to me, unsure if I knew English.  “Do you understand?”


When I got to the top I was greeted by a collection of shrines and sacred statues and an observation deck with a spectacular view and a concession stand on its bottom floor.  There was only about three people up at the top with me, more if you include the deer that poked his head into the store and started eyeing the beer in the fridge.

On the way to the Shishiiwa Observatory by the cable car station for another view of the bay, I met the other guy who had gone up on foot, just on another trail:  Gus, an Aussie traveling solo for the day while his ex-pat English teaching friend was at work in Hiroshima.  He too had run-ins with deer; one of the ones with antlers nearly bucked him where it really hurts — but the antlers luckily went to just outside his outer and inner thigh regions.  Why deer have an obsession with the human male genital region I don’t know, but maybe it was due to all those oysters around. 

“Have you seen any of the monkeys?” he asked me.  Gus was less concerned about deer and was more obsessed with seeing Japanese monkeys.  All around the peak region there were signs that implied that they we’d see them and that they’d be harmless as long as we didn’t stare.  No monkeys were to be seen though, and after a while we gave up, hoping we’d see them on the way down.  Gus decided to take the way I went while I took to a shady, untamed trail underneath the path of the cable car

Walking down the heavily eroded and slippery Bakuchio Trail led me to areas of heavy tropical foliage, and at one turn that was so wild I thought I had strayed off the path.  I heard a rustling in the distance, followed by a high-pitched howl.  Is that a monkey?  The closer I got, the louder the calls were and it turned out to be a monkey, warning the others of my accidental invasion.  Before I knew it, I was surrounded by about twenty monkeys of all ages, running down the hill to escape from me in a sort of miniature stampede.  It was a great thrill to finally see them in my last day in the wilderness of Japan since I never saw them since trying to find them back in Nikko — and because none of them tried to lick my balls. 

“I SAW LIKE TWENTY MONKEYS!” I told Gus when I bumped into him at the shops near the pier.

“Shit, I was thinking of going with you too.”

Gus and I took the ferry back to the mainland and the train back to Hiroshima and split up at different train stations.  From there I hopped back on the Superexpress Shinkansen (bullet train), which got me to Tokyo in less than four hours. 

TOKYO WAS THE SAME as when I left the week before, with its crowded trains and electronic platform chimes that always made me feel like I was getting a power-up in a video game.  I took a train back to Liz and Hiroshi’s apartment just in time for a surprise earthquake that shook the Tokyo region with a tremor that measured 5.8 on the Richter Scale.  The entire apartment shook — the bookshelf, the mugs on the table (shaking simulated by hand) — but everything remained intact.

I casually drank my tea after it was all said and done, knowing that I hadn’t been that shaken up since that deer licked my balls earlier that morning.

Next entry: Farewell Surprise

Previous entry: Fahrenheit 8/6

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Comments for “The Critters of Miyajima”

  • Gotta love deer and monkeys.  Those deer chased after my friends and I when we were there - we couldn’t get rid of them and a shop keeper had to come out and beat one off with a broom.  Seriously!  They were stalker deer!  LOL

    Erik - glad you got to see the Torii - they were covered in green mesh when I was there.  Another typhoon had torn them down.  Now you’ve seen one of the 5 best views in Japan!

    Posted by Liz  on  10/12  at  04:04 PM

  • i have a pic with the Ohtorii Gate too!  but only from Epcot Center…. haha…if you wanna see it, you’ll have to friendster me…

    “deer” pic not working - 404 error

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/12  at  06:10 PM

  • The water on that stream is SO clear - awesome!! And the views from the top - so nice.

    Sad that the deer are so desensitized to humans…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/12  at  06:21 PM

  • ERIK: beautiful pics!  sorry to hear your privacy was almost, fully invaded…

    MARKYT:  friendster too eh?  i think your friend, paul, added me awhile back.  i couldn’t place him and then i realized he was in brazil with all y’all.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/12  at  08:57 PM

  • Urbanized deer?! Only in Japan.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/13  at  05:39 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Farewell Surprise

Previous entry:
Fahrenheit 8/6


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