There are multiple routes for first time visitors to enjoy Tokyo, Osaka areas even without Kyoto. However, everyone should consider visiting Itsukushima and Hiroshima at least once in their lives because each of them is so unique and has world heritage that no one should ignore as world citizens.
JR pass can easily take visitors from Osaka to Miyajimaguchi Station via JR lines and Shinkansen. It's about 3.5 hours away between two cities. Hiroshima is in between. Our plan is to leave before 8am from Osaka and tour around Miyajimacho first. Including the ferry time, we ended up arriving Istukushima island around 11:30am. Strongly recommended to stay overnight on the island or in Hiroshima. We had a tight schedule this time so had to cover both sites in one day. 2 days or more can enrich the experience better as we walk through our day below.
We were worried for a little bit when we saw so many people getting off the station to catch the same ferry. The worries were relieved right away when the ferry showed up as it was huge so the crowds moved really quickly with little waiting time.
The other reason why we chose to go to Miyajimacho first is the highest tide time during November season and specifically the day we visited it was around 11:50am (check this website for tide forecast at Itukushima). The most common ways to see the famous bird gate (torri) of Itukushima Shrine is either seeing it floating in the sea at the highest tide or walk next to it at the lowest tide. When the weather gets cold, the first option is much more preferred.
The torri can be seen on the ferry as the boat gets closer to the port gradually. Once off the ferry, you will be very close to the main shopping area on the island already. The island is not big itself. It does have hills and forests which is a perfect combination of nature beauty apart from the famous shrine. Also, wild deer are everywhere here (in our opinion, Miyajima can replace Nara for deer visit as less aggressive deer here and few people chasing them as well)
Weather forecast can be very helpful again when you want to decide whether to take the rope-way to the top of the island. When it's sunny or less cloudy, from the top you can oversee beautiful 360 view of the whole island as well as Hiroshima across the ocean. Unfortunately, there were too many clouds the morning we went so we couldn't see a lot. Rope-way operates at 15-minute intervals. The other surprise on the way from ferry port to the rope-way station, is a wonderful natural forest where deer wonders and perfect for fall foliage admire. There is free shuttle bus every 30 minutes while the walk only takes you about 15-20 minutes, at very comfortable pace with gorgeous views.
Coming down from the top, the sun came out that strengthened the fall colors to a new level, so refreshing and bright.
There could definitely be more time planned at the shrine, located at the bottom of the hill. We saved it after the rope-way as we only wanted to tour inside quickly to take some key photos. The shrine was an amazing architecture. Red and white as the base color theme that jumps out from the ocean/land background. There were many Japanese families wearing kimono to have pictures with children together.
Whether it's a solo trip, family visit or friends hang-out, Istukushima Shrine might be the best Unesco World Heritage for photo memories.
You must be wondering now did we ever eat? It was probably 1:30 pm passed after we came out from the shrine. Fortunately, that helped us avoid the busy lunch hour. Oyster at this island is very famous along with maple leaf shape snack with red bean paste inside or better the local chest nut paste. Yakigaki No Hayashi (焼がきの はやし) is the best oyster restaurant we found. There are all kinds of ways to cook oyster so the best way to enjoy them is to choose one of the sets on the menu. Local beer or non-alcoholic drink like lemon-flavored sparking water goes well with the dish. No one can resist the sizzling of grilled oyster as the video below shows
The restaurant is super clean and efficient. It is inside the shopping area so after the meal, enjoy walking around to check out souvenirs or snacks. One note, there are a few shops in the middle of the hill. Don't buy souvenirs there as there are way more options at lower prices down to the main shopping area, on the way back to the ferry port. It's a great idea to mail postcards from the island as well. There are beautifully designed postcards as below. 70 yen only for the postage and 100 yen only for each postcard.
Didn't think that we had so much to say about Miyajima/Itsukushima so have to save the rest of Hiroshima trip to another article later. Chat soon!