Itsukushima, also known as Miyajima, is a quiet island off the coast of Hiroshima, Japan. On this only sparsely-populated land, it's so quiet, you won't even find a traffic signal. Ancient traditions are preserved in time, evident from the old-world temples and shrines. The entire island has an otherwordly vibe, showing visitors why at one point, the island itself was worshipped as a Shinto god.
But what most visitors come for is the population of deer so friendly, the human residents co-exist with them to the point where some can even be petted. The deer are completely tame, with no fear of humans. Part of the reason is a long history of humans protecting and feeding the deer on the island, as they were thought to be divine messengers sent to earth by the gods. Until 1637, in fact, killing one of them was a crime punishable by execution!
This quiet island has retained its peaceful character from ancient times, with only scattered towns and very light development. Honeymooners here are surrounded by nature, Buddhist temples, shinto shrines, magnificent scenery...and over a thousand free-roaming deer. The deer will approach and try to eat anything from your packed lunch to your train ticket, so mind your belongings when they approach. Feeding them is prohibited. Though you might see tourists tempting them with treats to get a picture, this is against the law here.
Some say they're dependent on human handouts to survive, so the ban on feeding them is causing harm. But whatever your opinion, you don't want to get into trouble with the law on your honeymoon. Aside from posing with the deer, here are some of Itsukushima's other must-see attractions:
Marked by a red gate floating above the water, the Itsukoshima Shrine is a Shinto shrine and UNESCO World Heritage Site from the 16th century. Its history may go all the way back to 12th-century Japan, when an earlier version is believed to have been built. Originally devoted to the worship of Shinto goddesses, the shrine was until somewhat recently closed to commonors and most other visitors. You can now walk to the "floating" torii gate at low tide, and explore the holy complex...being visited by humans and deer alike.
See the Views, Halls, & Relics of Mount Misen
At the top of Itsukoshima's beautiful, sacred Mount Misen lies Shishiiwa Observatory, where you can get incredible views of Itsukoshima and the surrounding islands. Part of the Itsukoshima Shrine complex, visitors can take a cable car with incredible views to the top and then explore ancient relics, statues, petroglyphs, and religious buildings at the top. Experience a primeval forest, religious training halls, and a "holy flame" said to be burning for 1200 years.
Hike the Trails
Several walking trails on the island offer a tour of some of its most beautiful forests, religious sites, and romantic vistas. Starting at the cable car or "ropeway," as it's called, the Momijidani trail is short but steep. The Daisho-in trail is beautiful as well, and less steep, with excellent views. The Omoto trail is another option, for even more variety. As you hike, look out for some of the island's native deer.
Along the way you'll also discover charming bridges, colorful plants and trees, and some of the island's native deer. Cherry trees blossom in April, so try to time your visit with the bloom! The hikes take 1-3 hours each, depending on your speed and fitness level.
Experience Miyao Castle
Miyao Castle plays a powerful role in the military history of feudal Japan. Set atop a hill and designed specifically to be vulnerable to attack, the castle was built by the Ōuchi clan as as bait, to entice a rival clan to attack. Once the castle was easily taken over by the rivals, the Ōuchi clan returned in a surprise attack where they targeted the castle's intentional weaknesses, securing themselves a decisive victory in battle. The castle, flimsy by design, is mostly gone, but you can crest the hill where it sat and soak up the history.