The vision of the Itsukushima shrine’s vermillion-coloured torii gateway rising serenely from the waters of the Seto Inland Sea is almost as iconic of Japan as Mount Fuji. Carved from decay-resistant camphor wood and coated in red lacquer, the structure serves as a ceremonial entrance to one of the country’s most revered Shinto complexes, whose pagoda roofs nestle alluringly on the small island of Miyajima in Hiroshima Bay.
From behind the ‘floating’ shrine, the wooded slopes of Mount Misen sweep to a sacred peak; the boulder-studded summit affords a wonderful view across the ocean and surrounding islets. Visitors can catch a cable-car ride to within half an hour’s walk of the top, or climb all the way through dense forests of maple, cherry and conifers. A religious decree forbids the felling of any tree on Miyajima and the result is a botanical feast, especially during the autumn, when the maple leaves glow vivid crimson.