Sites as culturally iconic as the vermilion torii gates of Itsukushima are rarely appreciated for their true beauty when they’re crawling with day time hordes. But staying overnight on this sacred island of maple tree valleys, wild monkeys, Sika deer, temples and shrines, you’ll be able to explore it at its brilliant best. Also known as Miyajima, the world heritage-listed island is considered holy by the Japanese, a place where in the past few commoners have set foot. For 1400 years it has had a shrine overhanging the water and its torii entrance offshore, built so as not to sully the sanctity of the land. At dawn or dusk, depending on the tides, you’ll hear the gentle lap and slop against the shrine’s pylons, and it’s possible, with your eyes on the famed torii and its sea-bound reflection, to be lulled into a dream of a bygone age. You’ll feel as much during your ryokan stay and while walking the island’s sacred forest and other buildings. Photos of the torii are best taken in the morning, when the sun shines on it from behind you.
No visit to Japan is quite complete until you’ve spent the night on a futon mattress rolled out on tatami mats, wonderfully snug behind the sliding paper screens of aryokan, a traditional Japanese inn. You’ll be shown your room and have your tea poured in graceful welcome, before being encouraged to slip out of your clothes and into a yukata, the cotton robe you’ll notice Japanese guests wear during the entirety of their stay, even at meal times. Your ryokan has a sento bathhouse attached, so wash your body and relax your mind, before scuffing your undersized slippers to a traditional Japanese dinner and warming sips of sake. Afterwards, relax and look out over the sacred island of Miyajima and see yourself rich in the ways and days of the Tokugawa shoguns.