Even though it causes feelings of anxiety and stress, I love to travel with my children. It is one of our favorite activities, and we love a good adventure with crazy memories for good measure.
One of my friends told me about a place she visited years ago when she came to Japan for a visit, and it’s stayed in the back of my mind because it sounded so crazy. So as cases began to decline in Japan and travel was allowed in a responsible way, my family and I left the southern isle of Kyushu and headed north to Itsukushima, known also as Miyajima (shrine island).
Miyajima Island is considered to be sacred; on further research, the island is considered to be a god!
I found out that even the trees are sacred about five minutes after we arrived. How did I find that out? After disembarking the ferry, my children were playing with sticks from the ground, pretending they were swords, and they hit a tree. A lovely older woman informed us that the trees and the island are sacred. Oops.
I told the kids to just keep it together since we have clearly forgotten how to act in public. And they did a great job, until a deer came up to them and let them pet it. See, this island is known for many things, but it is full of tame deer previously used as part of the shrine’s worship ceremony.
The deer will come up to you and let you feed them (although you are not supposed to), but they will take your food if you refuse to feed them. My children were amazed. They let the deer eat from their hands, and then they had to run to keep their food from the deer. Delightful giggles could be heard as they interacted with the deer that are everywhere. They roam the entire island except for the sandy beaches. They’ll come and rest where you are, completely unafraid of humans.
Fortunately, the island also sells amazing food, so the deer are invested in getting your food. Known for oysters cooked in various ways, we were in heaven. Grilled oysters, oyster curry, oyster bun…I could go on! And then for dessert, we enjoyed a maple leaf pastry stuffed with chocolate or fruit filling. All these were made with local ingredients and are specialties to the area.
But there are more than just deer and amazing food on this island!
As you get past the deer and the stalls of food, you come across a huge torii gate in the sand. If you go past that and look out into the water, you see a “floating” torii gate. This floating torii gate is the Itsukushima shrine entrance. The big red torii gate is known as must see for visiting this area of Japan. It was under construction when we visited, which was fine with us as we usually don’t go to shrines (the main reason being the aforementioned children fighting with sticks minutes after we arrived). But it is a cool architectural piece.
We decided to walk along the town that makes up the island, bypassing the shrine that if you walk through lets you cut through to the other side of the island. We arrived at an aquarium that had numerous exhibits discussing oyster farming which were fascinating.
After the aquarium and many sitting breaks, we basically crawled back to the ferry, grabbing souvenirs along the way. One of the souvenirs we kept finding was a paddle with different images on it. You were supposed to write a prayer on them and leave them at the shrine. We opted for miniature maple leaves, deer paraphernalia and swords (naturally).
We rode the ferry back to the mainland at sunset with our souvenirs in tow, the wind on our faces, our spirits renewed, and our bodies exhausted. If the original settlers felt as wonderful as we did there, I can see why the they thought the island was a god.