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If you are familiar with traveling spots in Japan, you've possibly seen photos of the floating torii of Miyajima. The floating torii of Miyaji, also known as Itsukujima Shrine, has its importance as a World Heritage Site but also its unique scenery changing with the ebb and the water flow.
Itsukushima Shrine was built originally in 593 respectfully by Saeki Kurama during the Suiko period but later completed by Taira no Kiyomori who was a warlord of Aki Province in 1168.
The island of Miyajima is considered a place that God resides and floats upon the Seto Inland Sea; therefore, when an oracle told Saeki Kurama to build a shrine, the island was chosen.
Later in 1207 and 1223, the shrine was burnt down twice and the present-day building was rebuilt between 1240 to 1243. During the Meiji Restoration, because of the policy of the separation of Shinto from Buddhism to ensure the power of Shinto, the Meiji government wanted to burn down the main building of Itsukushima Shrine but was stopped by the Shinto priest of the shrine; the government later chose to change the design into more Shinto style and removed statues and images of Buddha.
In the present days, Miyajima is one of the Three Most Scenic Spots in Japan selected many years ago, and the Itsukushima Shrine complex is a World Heritage Site. Six buildings within the complex are National Treasures selected by the Japanese government.
The reason for building a shrine above the sea is that the island itself is a deity so constructing a shrine on the island would be disrespectful. There are 37 buildings at the main shrine and 19 buildings at the outer shrine. For its location above the sea, there is no tatami design like other shrines but wooden planks. On the official site, there is even a warning not to wear high heels to the shrine because you might get stuck in between the planks!
This one and only structure of "floating" on the water attracts travelers globally but also requires intense maintenance. Of course, because of its unique structure, it has become a symbol of Japanese Shinto. The famous gate (the floating torii) is built on a shallow, muddy tide pool that stands 15-meter tall; when it is high tide, it creates a floating scene that adds more sacredness to the shrine. The Torii is currently under construction since 2019 and the completion date is not confirmed yet.
The Itsukushima Shrine has a structure of a shrine for guest deities and the main shrine for the three goddesses. Visitors will see the shrine for guest deities first going through the entrance; the shrine for guest deities is called the “Marodo Shrine” for five male gods, Amenooshihomimi-no-mikoto, Ikitsuhikone-no-mikoto, Amenohohi-no-mikoto, Amatsuhikone-no-mikoto and Kumanokusubi-no-mikoto.
Walking through the corridor, you will enter the large central shrine for the main deities, the three female gods who are Ichikishima-hime-no-mikoto, Tagori-hime-no-mikoto and Tagitsu-hime-no-mikoto. Similar to many Shinto shrines in Japan, it has a worship hall and the purification hall within the main shrine, but the one in Itsukushima Shrine is one of the biggest in Japan; the main shrine is also a National Treasure with an area of 271 square meters.
There are two other shrines and the Takabutai (elevated stage) within the complex as well. The two shrines are the Daikoku Shrine for the deity of matchmaking, Daikoku, and the Tenjin Shrine dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane, the patron deity of scholarship. We will discuss further the Takabutai while discussing Bungaku.
Bugaku, one of the kinds of traditional musical court-dance founded back in the days of the Heian period, can be seen performed on the Takabutai of Itsukushima Shrine. Bugaku is performed about ten times during festivals held at the shrine. Some of the famous repertoires are “Ran Ryo-oh” and “Nasori” which were brought to Itsukushima Shrine by Taira no Kiyomori from Shintennoji Temple in Osaka.
With the Takabutai located in front of the floating Torii along with the sea in the background, watching the performance can be a life-changing experience bringing visitors back to the Heian period. Being the oldest surviving court dance in the world, it can only be found in Japan and even in Japan, it is performed at sacred places only such as the Imperial Household, Shitenno-ji Shrine in Osaka, and Itsukushima Shrine. Bugaku performing at Itsukushima Shrine is accompanied by gagaku (old traditional Japanese music) with hichiriki, flutes, shoko, and other traditional percussion.
Other than Bugaku performing on the Takabutai, there is a shrine Noh stage at Itsukushima shrine as well. The stage is 440 years old and has unique features compared to other Noh theater stages; typical Noh stages are designed to remain fully silent when actors pass across the stage but the Noh stage at Itsukushima Shrine is designed to create echoes with the actors’ feet. The stage is perfectly surrounded by water during high tides to create a view of floating on the water.
Because of the nature of the Itsukushima Shrine’s location in the middle of Seto Inland Sea, it is important to know how to get there and when to depart while planning a visit. There are two major ways to reach Miyajima: less than an hour by train and ferry from JR Hiroshima Station or by direct ferries from Hiroshima Port.
Visitors can take the JR Sanyo Main Line from JR Hiroshima Station (410 yen) or JR Iwakuni Station (330 yen) to JR Miyajimaguchi Station and take a 5-minute walk to Miyajimaguchi Pier to take the ferry for 10-minute to Miyajima Pier (180 yen for adults, 90 yen for children). It takes about 12-minute on foot to Itsukushima Shrine.
For travelers visiting Miyajima from Hiroshima Peace Park and Hiroshima Port, ferries are going to Miyajima directly. From Hiroshima Peace Park (45 minutes), it is 2,200 yen one way for adults and 1,100 yen for children; on the other hand, it is 1,900 yen for adults and 950 yen for children from Hiroshima Port for a 22-minute boat ride.
While the great torii at Itsukushima Shrine being one of the most well-known sceneries of Japan, we hope through this article, visitors will have a better and more in-depth experience at Itsukushima Shrine with its rich history in architecture and Japanese traditional art. Don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes while visiting the shrine to avoid getting stuck in between wooden planks!
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