By Sage Burch
Do you want to have the best New Years? Look no further. If you follow this New Years Game Plan, then you will welcome in the new year at a World Heritage Site.
The Game Plan
- Arrive at Miyajima Island at your leisure (before 5pm) on December 31st.
- Explore, go shopping, and eat freely until you need to…
- Be in the general vicinity of Itsukujima Shrine to watch the Chinkasai Fire Festival, 6 PM to 8 PM.
- Go to Itsukushima Shrine, the earlier the better, for hatsumoude (first shrine visit of the year.)
- If you start standing in line early enough (think 8 PM), you stand a chance to be inside a World Heritage Site at the stroke of midnight.
- They open the gates a few minutes in advance of midnight. You pay a small entrance fee and receive a decorative wooden rice paddle imprinted with the new year’s zodiac animal.
- Hatsumoude is 初詣 in kanji and はつもうで in hiragana.
- Wander around the ghostly streets and visit several other shrines.
- Don’t miss Henjo Cave and Daishoin Buddist Temple Complex!
- Warm up at a bonfire near Daishoin!
- Go to the Mt. Misen Ropeway by 5 AM. (Hiking up is also an option.)
- Arrive earlier to get a good spot in line!
- Goal: See the first sunrise from the top of the mountain.
- Dawn is at 6:47 AM and sunrise is at 7:17 AM, though it may take a few more minutes for the sun to appear over the mountains in the distance!
- Go home.
- Congratulations! You have probably been awake for over 24 hours and it was cold as H-E-Double Hockey Sticks. It’s time to get some sleep.
Here’s the deal. You’re going to be on a blustery island at night. However cold the weather forecast says it is going to be, it is going to be colder. Factor in wind chills on the top of Mt. Misen, and you have a recipe for disaster if you aren’t prepared. Stay warm.
There are coin lockers on the mainland at Miyajima Port.
There are several 24 hour toilets (western style) on Miyajima Island. They are reasonably clean and nice.
The Toto Toilets (the nicest and cleanest) are open until 9 PM.
There are plenty of food and sake vendors available throughout the night.
The Magic of Miyajima
I have personally completed the above Game Plan twice. Once was right before the pandemic, 2019/’20. The second time was in 2022/’23.
The first time was so magical. The back alleys and streets on the way to Daishoin Buddhist Temple were ghostly and greenish, the red temples lit up crisp red on that blurry green background. When you’re there at night, take note of all the colors. You will see a phantom rainbow.
I was not prepared for the cold, and I remember standing in line at Itsukushima Shrine from 8 PM to midnight in my thrifted jacket with just the barest amount of fluff packed in between two razor thin sheets of polyester fabric. No hat, no gloves. Maybe I had a scarf, but I can’t remember. I didn’t know about the Chinkasai Fire Festival or that there would be a bonfire near Daishoin Temple to ward off the chill. I didn’t know that there would be vendors all night selling food, even though I hadn’t brought any snacks with me. To my complete surprise, the island came back to life around 2 AM, shops reopening and people leaving their premium Ryokan Inn rooms that cost an arm, a leg, and a kidney.
I do not know how I survived or how I had planned to survive. But I suppose that’s just the kind of thing you can do when you’re 22.
The second time, I was prepared for the cold, but still not well enough.
It was good to be back, but in those three grueling years I’d lost all my resistance to the cold. Bundled in two shirts, a thin jacket, a winter jacket, a huge scarf, gloves, and warmed by a heat pack in each jacket pocket, I stood in line for Ikutsujima Shrine for three hours and was miserable.
It was worth it, but twice was enough for me.
And you know what they say—if you’re cold, you’re just wearing the wrong clothes.
When I visit Miyajima again, it’ll be for a pleasant day trip, possibly in the summer.
Sage Burch is the President of Ehime AJET for the 2022-2023 year. Sage is a fourth year JET in Matsuyama City with a bachelor’s in Global Studies and an interest in creative writing and language learning.
That was wonderful story of New Years in Japan!
I loved the pictures and the videos.