10 Great Islands You've Never Heard Of!

You escape to an island for that splendid sense of isolation. The problem is, lots of other travelers have the exact same idea. These days, getting away from it all requires some creativity

Japan, Miyajima

The Japanese say that their country has three most scenic spots: Amanohashidate, a sandbar that snakes across Miyazu Bay in the northern Kyoto Prefecture; Matsushima Bay, which is dotted with 260 tiny, pine-covered islands; and Miyajima, or "shrine island"--12 square miles dedicated to the three daughters of Susano-o-no-Mikoto, the Shinto god of the oceans. The island is so sacred that no one is supposed to give birth or die here; there are no maternity wards or cemeteries. Cutting trees is forbidden, and the forest provides sanctuary for dozens of bird species, as well as deer, which roam all over, and monkeys, which live atop 1,740-foot Mount Misen (reached by a two-hour hike from the pier or a 30-minute cable car ride).

After a 10-minute ferry ride departing near Hiroshima, you're greeted by a 50-foot-tall red Torii gate that soars out of the water majestically, signifying entrance to the spiritual realm. Taira-no-Kiyomori, a 12th-century warlord, funded the construction of the main Itsukushima shrine--a collection of buildings on stilts over a cove--to provide repose for the souls of the war dead. A five-story pagoda, folklore museum, and aquarium are all minutes from the docks. Stop at a shop for momiji-manju--sponge cakes filled with sweet red bean paste, custard, or chocolate--or sit down at a restaurant for eel, oysters, or okonomiyaki, a vegetable and meat pancake. The island has several fine small inns, such as the Miyajima Hotel Makoto, where most rooms are equipped with tatami mats and futons (011-81/829-44-0070, makato@gambo-ad.com, from $125). Or make Miyajima a day trip and stay in Hiroshima at the World Friendship Center, a B&B that arranges tours of the peace park and interviews with A-bomb survivors (8-10 Higashi Kannon-machi, 011-81/82-503-3191, from $34 per person). --Jeanette Hurt

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