Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine

Explore the Mysterious Shrine on the Water

The name Itsukushima literally means 'island of worship' and from ancient times the island itself was worshipped as a god. The mystical Itsukushima Shrine built on the water was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1996. A place where people have long carried out ancient rites, Itsukushima Shrine has become world renowned, attracting visitors from all over Japan and the rest of the world.
Why and when was it built and by whom? In this section, we will introduce places you must see inside Itsukushima Shrine, as well as explaining its fascinating history and stunning architecture.

Basic Information on Itsukushima Shrine

The unique shrine we see today is the work of Taira no Kiyomori,
a military leader from the late Heian period.

01

The shrine on the water
showing the prosperity
of the Taira clan.

It was originally built 1423 years ago in 593CE by Saeki no Kuramoto. Later, Taira no Kiyomori became heavily involved with the shrine. It is said he erected this shrine on top of the water after becoming the first samurai to assume the role of the Daijō-Daijin (the head of the imperial government). In 1571, it is said the Mōri clan renovated the main hall and reconstructed the O-Torii Gate and arched bridge.

At high tide, it feels like you're walking on water.

02

The shrine made to protec
the place where the god
or kami reside.

Why was Itsukushima Shrine built specifically at a location where the tides rise and fall? Because Itsukushima Island in its entirety was considered a god, it is said a location where the tides rise and fall was chosen specifically so the god or kami would not by damaged when they constructed the shrine.

Now, many visitors from abroad travel to
Itsukushima Shrine throughout the year.

03

Paying homage
at Itsukushima Shrine was
all the rage in Edo Japan.

Since long ago, worshippers have come to Itsukushima Shrine to pray for the safety of the Seto Inland Sea. From the time when Taira no Kiyomori came to worship at the shrine from the late Heian period, the name of the shrine spread far and wide. The idea of paying homage at Itsukushima Shrine became popular among fishermen and tradesmen who sailed in the Seto Inland Sea. In the Edo period, along with the popular pilgrimages to Ise Shrine and the shrines of Shikoku, Itsukushima Shrine became the main pilgrimage destination for people living in western Japan.

The elegant and traditional 'Kangensai Festival'

04

Its appeal as
a World Heritage Site

With its blue sea in front, the green of the virgin forest of Mount Misen behind and the vermilion of the shrine, Itsukushima Shrine is considered one of the 'Three Views of Japan' along with Matsushima Island and Amanohashidate. The high stage in front of the Main Shrine is known as one of Japan's 'three big stages', the others being the stone stage at Shitenno-ji Temple and Sumiyoshi Grand Shrine in Osaka. Itsukushima Shrine's religious 'Kangen Festival', takes place every year on 17th June according to Japan's old lunar calendar. There is plenty to see at this World Heritage Site.

Areas to Visit

The holy shrine at one with the nature surrounding it

01

A shrine with
an almost mythical beauty

Itsukushima Shrine is the only shrine and O-Torii gate in Japan built where the tide swells beneath it and retreats into the distance. The Main Shrine connected by beautiful corridors to the Marodo Shrine, Tenjin Shrine and the Noh theatre stage are all in perfect balance with the nature surrounding it. The magnificent composition and architecture of the shrine does not fail to enthrall the thousands of visitors who travel to the shrine.

The Marodo Shrine, the first spot where visitors can pray

02

First,
start at the Marodo Shrine

It has been designated as a national treasure. After entering the Itsukushima Shrine complex, The Marodo Shrine is the first shrine you arrive at after walking along the eastern corridor. The biggest of the four shrines and secondary shrines within Itsukushima Shrine, it is dedicated to the five male deities, Amenooshihomimi-no-mikoto, Ikitsuhikone-no-mikoto, Amenohohi-no-mikoto, Amatsuhikone-no-mikoto and Kumanokusubi-no-mikoto.

There is something special about the atmosphere at the center of the shrine

03

The Main Shrine is
dedicated to
three female deities

In the large central shrine, first you will come to the worship hall and the purification hall. This Main Shrine is dedicated to three female deities, Ichikishima-hime-no-mikoto, Tagori-hime-no-mikoto and Tagitsu-hime-no-mikoto. The three female deities have long been dutifully worshipped as they are the gods of the sea, transport, fortune, and the arts.

Along with the Marodo Shrine and the corridors,
the Main Shrine is also a designated national treasure

04

The Main Shrine is one of
the biggest in Japan

Along with the Marodo Shrine and the corridors, the Main Shrine is also a designated national treasure Mōri Motonari reconstructed the Main Shrine in 1571. With an area of 271 square meters (82 tsubo), it is one of the biggest in Japan. The lack of doors or walls creates a spacious environment, while maintaining a very sacred atmosphere.

At low tide you can see right to the foot of the O-Torii gate and the foundations of the shrine

05

The beautiful scenery
changes with the tide

At high tide, the O-Torii gate and the shrine elegantly sits on top of the water. At low tide, you can walk right up to the foot of the O-Torii gate to experience it up close. Also at low tide, three 'mirror ponds' appear in the exposed sand around the shrine.

The O-Torii gate, full of elegance and style

06

The O-Torii gate,
full of elegance and style

Located 200 meters offshore from Itsukushima's Main Shrine, the O-Torii gate has been rebuilt a number of times since the days of Taira-no-Kiyomori. The current O-Torii gate was constructed in 1875, the 8th time it has been rebuilt.

When you walk across, be careful about footwear and where you step

07

Visiting
the O-Torii gate on foot

At low tide, you can see crowds of tourists walk across to the O-Torii gate. As you approach the O-Torii gate, the true thickness of the giant trunks is astounding. Also, the craftsmanship and engineering involved to make sure this structure stays balanced in the water is nothing short of remarkable. Needless to say, this is a great spot to take pictures.

A highlight was looking up at the O-Torii gate from a boat

08

Entering the Shinto shrine
through the O-Torii gate

In the time of Taira-no-Kiyomori, the standard etiquette was to pass under the O-Torii gate by boat and then enter Itsukushima Shrine. Even now, from March to November when the seas are at their calmest, you can experience passing through the O-Torii gate on a boat. As you pass under the O-Torii gate, the custom is to bow twice, clap twice, and bow once.

Recommended Sights

The East Corridor that connects the Marodo Shrine to the Main Shrine

01

Enjoy the high quality
craftsmanship of the East
and West Corridor

The East Corridor painted in vivid vermilion links the Marodo Shrine to the Main Shrine. The architecture and the craftsmanship of the both the East Corridor and West Corridor is breathtaking. The roof of the entrance is gabled in the "Kirizuma-zukuri" style and the architectural style of the West Corridor is called "Kara-hafu" (Chinese gable). The Tenjin Shrine devoted to the god of learning and study is located along the West Corridor. The two corridors have 108 bays, or 'ma' in total and the distance between each pillar is 2.4 meters. The width is precisely one 'ma' - enough to fit eight floorboards. Small gaps between the floorboards are there to relieve water pressure, another example of the amazing craftsmanship that made this unique structure possible.

Looking at the Noh stage from the western corridor

02

The Noh stage watched
by samurai
from across the ages

This is the only Noh stage in Japan that has been constructed over water. The stage was presented to the shrine by the Mōri clan during the Warring States period. It was subsequently repaired during the Edo period by the Asano clan - the feudal lords of Hiroshima at that time. Usually, urns full of water are placed under the stage to improve the quality the sound. However, urns could not be installed as the stage is built above the sea. Instead, the floorboards themselves were specially constructed to create a similar effect.

The location with the O-Torii gate in the background is spectacular

03

Bugaku traditional
court dance and music

According to Taira-no-Kiyomori, the dances including 'Ryō-ō' and 'Nasori' were brought over from Shitennoji Temple in Osaka and continue to be performed to this day. After the ten or so festivals that take place every year, the traditional music and dance is performed with the O-Torii gate and the sea in the background. As the glittering costumes move elegantly in front of you, you could be forgiven for thinking you had been transported back to the Heian period.

The more you find out, the more you will want to find out about the O-Torii gate

04

Unearth the secrets
of the O-Torii gate

The O-Torii gate stands 16 meters tall and weighs 60 tons. Surprisingly, the six pillars are not buried in the seabed, but use the weight of the pillars themselves to remain standing. The strengthening of the ground around the structure and the stones and pebbles inserted into the top of the O-Torii gate keeps everything balanced. For the current O-Torii gate, 600 year-old Camphor trees were used for the main pillars and it is said it took years of searching before they came across the right trees.

A beautiful scene unfolds when the shrine is lit after dark

05

Don't miss
the illuminations after dark

Long ago, it is said when Taira-no-Kiyomori visited the shrine to worship, the large O-Torii gate, the shrine and the corridors were all illuminated with the light from hundreds of burning torches. Today, the whole of Itsukushima Shrine is lit up at night, creating a very different atmosphere to the shrine during daylight hours. Also, if you happen to ride on a cruise boat that sets sail after dusk, you should be able to glimpse the glimmer of shrine and O-Torii gate on the water.

A view of the Seto Inland Sea from Mt. Misen

06

Mt. Misen is popular as a
hot-spot of spiritual energy

Since the opening of the temple by Kobo Daishi in 806 CE, Mt. Misen has been worshipped as a sacred mountain by followers of the Sangaku-Shinko faith (mountain worship). It was inscribed as a World Heritage Site along with Itsukushima Shrine in 1996. You can find historical landmarks and uniquely shaped rocks in the untouched virgin forest on Mt. Misen.

20th Anniversary Events

20th Anniversary of the Inscription of
Itsukushima Shrine as a World Heritage Site:
"Miyajima Stamp Rally"

A gift of momiji-manju cakes await for anyone who collects all three stamps from Mt. Misen and three stamps from Itsukushima Shrine. In addition, if you manage to collect over 10 individual stamps, you will be in with a chance of winning a prize in the lucky draw.

  • Period

    1st December 2016 to 31st January 2017

20th Anniversary of the Inscription of
Itsukushima Shrine as a World Heritage Site:
"Traditional Bugaku Music & Dance"

To celebrate the date when Itsukushima Shrine was inscribed as a World Heritage Site, four or five of Itsukushima Shrine's traditional songs will be performed.

  • Period

    6th December 2016
  • Time

    Afternoon

20th Anniversary of the Inscription of
Itsukushima Shrine as a World Heritage Site:
"An Exhibition of Treasured Objects"

An exhibition of items designated as national treasures or important cultural assets.
This is a rare chance to view important cultural items usually not on display to the public.
Admission fee: Adults 1,000 yen, High school students 500 yen, Junior high school students and elementary school children 300 yen.

  • Period

    24th November 2016 to 18th December 2016

20th Anniversary of the Inscription of
Itsukushima Shrine as a World Heritage Site:
"Miyajima Akari Shopping District"

Lanterns made specially for the 20th anniversary celebrations will be lit and displayed along the shopping district.
On Saturday 10th December or Sunday 11th December, a lucky draw will be held and rice cakes handed out to the first 2,000 visitors. All participants will be presented with a celebratory rice spoon.

  • Period

    30th May 2016 to 31st March 2017
  • Time

    From sunset to around 11pm

20th Anniversary of the Inscription of
Itsukushima Shrine as a World Heritage Site:
"Lanterns on Miyajima Machiya Street"

Townhouses and shops along Miyajima's Machiya Street will be lit with 'andon' lanterns.
The drawings on the lanterns will act as a street gallery for the enjoyment of visitors to Miyajima.

  • Period

    26th April 2016 to 22nd December 2016
  • Time

    From sunset to around 11pm
Reference
「ココミル 広島 宮島」(Kokomiru Hiroshima Miyajima)(Published by JTB Publishing)
「るるぶ情報版 広島 宮島2011年」(Rurubu-johoban Hiroshima Miyajima 2011) (Published by JTB Publishing)
「週刊 日本の神社 第3号」 (Shukan Nihon no Jinja Daisango)(Published by De Agostini)

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