Sacred Deer of Miyajima

To avoid an overly long day of travel after our visit to Hiroshima we decided to stay the night on the small island of Miyajima at a true public house – the only affordable lodging on this tiny island.

Ferry to Miyajima

Miyajima is famously known for it’s world heritage Floating Torii – a wooden gate that stands on the shores of the island and “floats” twice daily at high tide when the waters rise to meet not only the Torii, but the water temple behind it. The fact that the Torii has been standing for over 1200 years and has only had to be replaced 8 times is pretty impressive as well.

Miyajima is also known for its sacred deer who roam free around the island.

Sacred Deer are Awesome

Guess which one I was most excited about? It is considered bad luck to touch the deer and, as such, they have pretty much free reign over the place  – we witnessed several shop owners politely chasing the deer out. No touching or hitting. It was quite possible the most polite shooing I’ve ever witnessed.

It was an easy hop, skip and jump away from Hiroshima…or a quick tram, train, and ferry away in normal travel speak.

The ferry offered beautiful views of the disappearing coast line of one adventure and the jungle-esque coastline of our adventure to come. The bright orange torii is immediately noticed – it happened to be low tide at the time – and the base was covered with tourists getting up close and personal with the relic.

Torii at low tide

I wasn’t expecting such a tropical environment. Despite that this was our southernmost destination of the trip (well, except for Hawaii…but that’s another post!) it still came as a surprise to go from the relative temperate climate of Tokyo and Kyoto to the subtropics.

Once we disembarked from the ferry we set out to find our lodgings for the night. We chose to stay at the only public house/hotel on the tiny island. Run by the state, it also operates a public bath and gives visitors the chance to have a traditional Japanese meal. Did I mention that Miyajima is a teeny tiny island?

It’s a teeny tiny island.

The map is a quaint seemingly hand drawn affair showing how few roads there are and points out all of the local places of interest.

“It’ll be so easy to find our hotel!”

Famous. Last. Words.

Despite the small number of roads, we managed to take almost every single incorrect one. Granted, this led to many view points of beauty, but after dragging around our luggage on our backs for the better part of an hour we finally realized that we needed assistance.

Water Temple at High Tide

Cue the mighty-calfed rickshaw drivers!

We had seen several rickhshaws throughout the country – in Tokyo and Kyoto – so we weren’t surprised to see more here in Miyajima offering tourists and non-tourists alike a chance to ride around a la olden days.

This job, apparently, leads to some impressive calf muscles and I’m kicking myself right now for not snapping a picture of those well muscled drivers/runners. Sigh….

Anyway, not only are these rickshaw drivers nice to look at, they also have a great knowledge of the city. Basically it was Miyajima’s version of a taxi driver. When lost – hail a cab or, in our case, a rickshaw.

While we did not partake in an actual rickshaw ride, we did trouble the driver for directions which were astoundingly simple.

“Just go down this road, up a hill, and it’s on the left.”

As if you need me to say this but it was a vast oversimplification.

We followed said road. On and on and on.

We climbed up (and then down) a hill that went on and on and on.

And when we arrived at “the building on the left” the name – at least the one not written in Kanji – didn’t match the name on our reservation.


We assumed we hadn’t gone far enough so we kept walking. Then the road turned to dirt. And we were stopped by a herd of grazing sacred deer.

Now, I love me some sacred deer. They are cute and little and so non-plussed by being in close contact with humans. But I’ll have to admit there is something unsettling about being *almost* surrounded by a herd of 60 of them.

Sacred Deer

Pretty sure I would come out on the losing side if things went south and some rogue spirit-deer decided they didn’t like my aura.

Or whatever it is sacred deer do. I’m no expert.

We decided we would not try to force our way through the herd and instead opted to retrace our steps and stop in “the building on the left” to ask for more directions.

Wouldn’t you know it we were in the exact right location. We got our room key, booked a time to use the public onsen later, and confirmed our dinner orders for two traditional Japanese style meals. With that, and a quick reminder from the concierge to ‘not be late for dinner’, we were back out the door to sight-see and sunset chase.

Torii at Sunset

And if it weren’t for those sacred deer blocking our path we might have kept right on walking…



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  1. did you line up perfectly with that tree so you’d have some deer antlers, Mandy, or was that an amazing coincidence…??

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