Mountain: Mt. Misen (弥山), Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan
(The short caption directly beneath each photo matches the text in CLIMB.)
My first view of Miyajima: (original photo taken in June 2015). The Otorii is visible at center left, and the mountain rising just to the left of center is Mt. Misen. Historically, the entire island was considered sacred ground.
The first Otorii was built before the tenth century; the existing gate dates to 1875. The Ōtorii (great torii) measures 24 meters wide and rises 16 meters high (measured from the sand on which it sits). Torii are sacred Shintō gates that mark the entrance to a sacred space–in this case, Itsukushima Shrine.
The Miyajima Ropeway actually consists of two different gondola-style ropeways – the lower “circulating style” ropeway takes ten minutes, and features 8-passenger gondolas that run continuously during operating hours. The upper funicular takes only 4 minutes, has a capacity of 30 passengers, and runs four times each hour.
This photograph, taken on the morning of my 2015 climb, shows just how misty the trail up Mt. Misen gets on a hot midsummer morning.
Several hiking trails lead from Itsukushima Shrine and Momijidani Park to the summit of Mt. Misen. For those seeking a shorter climb, another trail begins at the upper ropeway station–from which it’s only about a 20 minute hike to the Hall of the Eternal Flame, and another ten to the sacred summit.
In 806, Kōbō Daishi lit the eternal flame in the Reigan-do on Mt. Misen, after meditating on the mountain for 100 days. The flame was later used to light the World War II Peace Memorial across the inland sea, in Hiroshima.
These stairs, which lead from the Eternal Fire Hall to Misen’s summit, terrified me during my first journey up Mt. Misen in June 2015. I returned to Miyajima in June of 2020, and climbed the sacred slopes again–in similar weather. I am somewhat embarrassed (though not surprised) to report that this is not a difficult or frightening climb. (I was really out of shape in 2015.)
The misty summit of Mt. Misen. The observatory at the center of the summit contains a lookout platform, a small shop (which wasn’t open during my first visit) and toilets. To my chagrin in 2015, it did not include a restaurant.
This humble summit marker was the first–though far from the last–I talk about in CLIMB. It was the place my #100Summits dreams began, although three years, many difficult decisions, and a cancer diagnosis would intervene before I returned to the sacred mountains of Japan.
* This page is part of the photo companion to CLIMB: Leaving Safe & Finding Strength on 100 Summits in Japan. You can find the story behind these pictures (in hardback and ebook formats, and either in person or online) at your favorite local bookstore or at Amazon or Barnes & Noble (both in the U.S. and internationally).
For more photographs, and more about what happened after I received that diagnosis . . . click through to the photo companion for Chapter 2: One Hundred and One.