I don’t believe in love at first site, but after spending 8 hours exploring Itsukushima Island, commonly referred to as Miyajima (shrine island), I fell in love with this place. Miyajima is designated as one of the three most beautiful places in all of Japan. And I must concur.

Despite the hundreds of tourists that were sharing my newfound treasure, there was still a sense of serenity. Perhaps it was the feeling of accomplishment after the hike to the top of Mt. Misen and the panoramic view it offered. Or maybe the deer that have grown accustomed to visitors and will come up to you in search of food. I can’t really explain it. It’s just one of those places you have to experience yourself to gain a full understanding of the mystique the island offers.

Located in the Inland Sea in the southwest portion of Hiroshima Prefecture, Miyajima Island is a revered sacred destination where it is illegal to chop down a tree or bury the dead. The island is home to Itsukushima Shrine, which was first built in 593 and was recognized as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1996.

As the ferry approaches Miyajima, you are greeted by the most recognizable landmark, the 50 foot tall otorii (great gate) that marks the entrance to Itsukushima Shrine. At high tide, it appears to float on the water and at low tide, you can walk up and touch it. So how many ways can you shoot a torii? If you’re me, quite a few!

It was a day trip and my main goal was to get one great shot of the otorii. My favorite shot came after the sun had set and most of the tourists had gone home. While most people tend to capture the beautiful red, orange and yellow hues of sunset, I like to stick around for when the sky turns blue and purple. I added a little fill flash to bring out the detail in the pine tree and stone lantern.

There isn’t a boat load of things to do on the island, but that is part of the charm of this sacred place. You can walk through Itsukushima Shrine, peruse the shops in the Omotesando area, visit the Miyajima Aquarium, take the ropeway (aerial tram) up the mountain to see the monkeys and hike to the top of Mt. Misen. If you're really adventurous, you can hike down and see several more shrines along the way.

But before you leave the island, you have to pick up a box (or two) of momiji manju, a Japanese pastry filled with red bean paste, custard or chocolate. Yum!

I plan to go back in the fall when the hills are a sea of red from the changing colors of the red maple trees. After all, when you're in love, you shouldn't stay away for too long.