Miyajima island. Image via K Mishina
If you’re looking for a honeymoon destination, Japan has SO much to offer. It’s a measly 10-hour flight (nothin’ on that brutal European honeymoon trek) and is bursting with history, beautiful food, kind-hearted people, excellent hospitality and incredible culture.
Mrs Houndstooth and I travelled to Japan recently, and it’s safe to say we have fallen head over heels. But travelling to such an intricate country with many amazing destinations can make it difficult to know where to go. I’ve already spelt out one of the obvious ones, Kyoto, but there’s another spot I think will turn your Japanese honeymoon from great to magnificent.
Located a short ferry ride from the mainland (just near Hiroshima), Miyajima Island is one of the most scenic spots in Japan. It’s regarded as an Island of Gods, steeped in so much culture, beauty and romance that it’s almost overwhelming. Most people take the ferry out from Hiroshima to do a day trip to taste the delicious food the island has to offer, pet the wild (but tame) deer that roam the island freely and get a close look at the stunning Itsukushima Shrine – a World Heritage site. What many of the tourists don’t know, is that you can also stay on the island and experience peace and beauty for days on end.
It’s one thing to do a day trip, it’s another to feel like you’re among the only people on the island once those tourists jump back on the ferry and head for the mainland.
Momiji Manju. Image via Mr Houndstooth
Where to stay
Stepping off the ferry onto Miyajima, there’s a certain touristy feel to it – it’s hard to ignore given the number of people on the ferry. However, beyond that you immediately feel that this place is steeped in history. The Miyajima Arimoto Grand Hotel is no exception. The hotel has been in operation on the land of Miyajima since the early Edo period. The more than 400-year-old retreat is the closest hotel to the world-famous Itsukushima Shrine – but more on that later. The hotel has a mix of western and Japanese rooms and I cannot recommend highly enough forking out the bit extra for the beautifully crafted traditional room.
We’re talking tea poured for you on arrival and your own open-air bath carved from cypress wood. The hotel also has an on-site onsen (natural hot spring spas) so you can kick back after a long day of sight-seeing. Fair warning, most onsens require nude bathing and are naturally, separated into genders, so you won’t be bathing with your bride. It’s a great experience, but it’s also very handy having that personal open-air bath back at your room for a bit of ‘together time’.
Fun fact: We went full tourist when we arrived and almost called reception to ask where the bedroom was. Turns out, the furniture in the ‘lounge’ area is pushed to the side and a mattress bed is unfurled for you on the floor while you eat dinner. Speaking of dinner, the hotel also has an incredible restaurant. It’s a traditional Japanese seafood extravaganza, sourced from the Seto Inland Sea and served in a private room with that incredible Japanese hospitality we know and love.
What to eat
Miyajima is famous for its oysters. Oyster farming goes back about 450 years in Hiroshima, and about 330 years in Miyajima. Oysters farmed in the Seto Inland Sea are renowned for their flavour and texture. There is even an oyster festival every February.
It doesn’t matter where you turn, you can see oysters for sale everywhere on Miyajima. Whether you like them fresh, fried, grilled, marinated or battered, there is sure to be an option for everyone. I just have to mention the Momiji Manju too – a maple leaf-shaped snack cake. It’s one for the sweet tooth and the delicious smell wafts across the island. Grab some oysters for lunch and Momiji for dessert and you’re laughing.
Miyajima Brewery’s Caramel Blond. Image via Mr Houndstooth
What to drink
All this walking can be thirsty business and the Miyajima Brewery has your name written all over it. We’re talking top-class hospitality, floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Seto Inland Sea and of course, a Japanese beer paddle to do Australia proud. I personally recommend the Caramel Blond. The brewery also caters for the non-beer lovers with spirits and sake. It is the perfect people watching spot after a long day of sight-seeing.
Deer on Miyajima island. Image via Pen Ash
How to be romantic
Miyajima is a sacred place regarded as an object of worship and this is epitomized by the magnificent ‘floating’ tori gates of the Itsukushima Shrine. You’ve probably seen a picture of this gate before without even realising what it was or where it was located. It looks particularly spectacular during high tide, like it is floating on the sea. The tori gates – very common in Japan – are a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of a Shinto shrine.
They are said to mark the transition from the mundane to the sacred – and the Tori gate at Miyajima is one of the most famous in the world. During low tide, you can walk to the foot of the gate to see it up close, but we recommend sticking around until dusk when the Torii gates stand out against the beautiful golden sky. As the sun sets behind the giant gate and you’re surrounded by cute wandering deer, it becomes very clear that this is truly a romantic bucket list item.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention the deer! Second only to the island’s gate as the most popular attraction, the island is filled with wild (but friendly) deer. They wander the streets without a care in the world, but be warned they’ve got a pretty epic nose for sniffing out food and they can get a little too friendly when they smell something good!
Ms Zebra Says: This sounds like such a magical and wonderful experience. To taste the culinary delights, explore and of course, pet the deer, sounds like a truly romantic holiday! Thanks Mr Houndstooth – and we’re so glad you enjoyed your sojourn over there!!
About Mr Houndstooth: I am a happily married man. I enjoy a fine whisky, a new suit and swashbuckling around town with my beautiful bride. Looking back on my wedding day always makes me smile, even though it began to rain just as I said ‘I do’.