Itsukushima Shrine – a gracefully-inviting offshore shrine
Miyajima, home of Itsukushima Shrine, a World Heritage Site, floats on the Seto Inland Sea, known as the “Mediterranean of Japan” due to its warm climate. The gateway to Miyajima is “Miyajimaguchi”, which is approximately 25 minutes by train from Hiroshima, the central city of the Chugoku District. From there, you can take a ferry to reach Miyajima. After sailing across a rushing sea for about five minutes, standing on the deck and feeling the sea breeze, a large vermillion Torii gate that stands over the sea will come into view. This gate is the gateway to the sacred area.
The entire island of Miyajima is the precinct of the shrine, and it is believed that God resides in the island itself, making the island an object of faith. Enshrined within Itsukushima Shrine are three goddesses of Japanese mythology. In Japanese mythology, many goddesses are related to water. The appearance of the shrine suspended over the sea is graceful and beautiful, as may be expected of a shrine wherein goddesses lie. A corridor that seems to extend endlessly is a world of dazzling, beautiful colors. The sight of the sea over the row of pillars and the salty smell of the ocean will remind you that the shrine stands over the sea.
Itsukushima Shrine changes its expression dramatically with the ebb and flow of the tide and by day and night. During high tide, the brilliant vermillion color of the shrine pavilion stands out against the water surface. During low tide, you can walk on the dry beach until you are just below the Torii gate. When viewed from directly below, the majesty of the great Torii gate, made from unprocessed camphor trees and weighing approximately 60 tons, is overwhelming. After sunset, the shrine is illuminated and emerges over a jet-black sea, and it can be viewed from the sea by boat. Encounters with the various faces of Itsukushima Shrine naturally remind us of the fact that it is a shrine for goddesses.
On a stage set up over the sea, Noh plays, a form of Japanese traditional theater, are performed about nine times a year. There are also various events including the Water Fireworks Display, in which fireworks are set off from the sea, and the Kangen Festival, (a music festival of wind and string instruments).
Address:1-1 Miyajimacho Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima
Access:Travel by train from JR Line Hiroshima Station to Miyajimaguchi Station (approx. 25 minutes), and take a ferry from Miyajimaguchi-Sanbashi (approx. 6 minutes from Miyajimaguchi Station). Get off at Miyajima-Sanbashi and walk for approx. 15 minutes.
Viewing Miyajima from the sea on a boat
Aside from viewing the island from a pleasure boat, you can approach the Grand Gate on a small boat, such as a rowboat powered by sculls and paddles or a sea kayak. There are some boats that do not require reservation.
The largest shrine in Japan, where Japanese thoughts and culture are condensed
Why was Itsukushima Shrine built over the sea? Because building something on the land of a sacred island where gods reside was considered profane. This belief generated a unique concept of building out over the sea on the foreshore area. The 17 buildings, including the main shrine that enshrines the three goddesses, are connected by a long corridor, which reaches a total length of 262 meters. This shrine pavilions boast the largest area among shrines in Japan. Although there are many religious structures in the world that express a longing for the heavens in physical form by building upward, a religious building that pursues sideways expansion is unique, even on a global scale.
The person who rebuilt the shrine pavilions with their current appearance is Taira no Kiyomori, a military leader who took the political control in the 12th century. In addition to the size and gorgeous design of the shrine pavilions, very Japanese design concepts can be observed throughout the pavilions that make them harmonize with nature while utilizing its beauty, such as the gaps between floor panels that reduce the impact of waves or minimal use of walls to reduce the impact of the sea breeze.
The Itsukushima Shrine Museum has a collection of approximately 4,500 items, including national treasures and important cultural properties. The “Heike Nokyo (Taira Family Sutras)”, dedicated by the Taira family, led by Taira no Kiyomori, which contains a prayer for the prosperity of the family, is one of the best decorative sutras. Decorations utilizing golden openwork or crystals, or brilliant pictures or text lavished with gold or silver convey the industrial art of the day. (Normally, a copy is displayed. A portion of it is displayed in feature exhibitions in spring and fall.) There are also various authentic cultural properties such as fans, armor, swords, and masks for court dance and music, which provide an opportunity to be exposed to the Japanese sense of beauty.
Mysterious mountain decorated with massive rocks and autumn colors
The best season to visit Miyajima is the fall, when trees are ablaze with autumn colors, which peak in mid to late November. In particular, Momijidani Park, located at the base of Mount Misen, situated to the south of Itsukushima Shrine and the central part of the island, is one of the most famous spots for fall colors. The scenery of autumn colors painting everything in vermillion, orange, and yellow is like a picture, and you can experience the sensation of diving into colors.
Mount Misen, where Momijidani Park is located, is a holy mountain that has been revered as a place where the gods of the island reside since ancient times. The flourishing forest on the mountain, where a wide variety of plants grow depending on the altitude and where many creatures live, is also considered to be the epitome of Japan.
Another feature of Mt. Misen is the scenery created by gigantic, oddly-shaped rocks that allows you to feel the scale and mystery of nature. There is also the Miyajima Ropeway that takes you to the summit. At “Kuguri-iwa”, near the summit, gigantic rocks lean against each other and create a tunnel. “Kanman-iwa”, in which the level of water trapped inside changes according to the ebb and flow of the tide, is also famous. The view of the Seto Inland Sea from the observatory at the summit, where large rocks stand side by side, is exceptionally beautiful.
Mount Misen also has many mysterious legends – “Reikado” is a part of “Misen Hondo (Misen Main Hall)”, which belongs to Daisho-in, the temple with the longest history on the island. The sacred flame lit by Kobo Daishi, a distinguished priest of the Middle Ages, continues to burn here, and you can freely drink the sacred water boiled on this flame, which is said to cure all kinds of diseases.
Address:Momijidani, Miyajima-cho, Hatsukaichi-shi, Hiroshima
Telephone:0829-44-2011(Miyajima Tourist Association)
Access:Approx. 15 minutes on foot from “Miyajima Sanbashi”
Hiroshima Electric Railway Economical Tickets
There are three types of economical tickets for enjoying Hiroshima and Miyajima.
You can take all streetcars and ferryboats between Miyamjima-guchi and Miyajima for 840 yen (1-day trip card).
Eat, enjoy, and play. Miyajima is also an attractive town!
The appeal of Miyajima does not stop there. Near Omotesando Street, which goes from the port to Itsukushima Shrine, a shopping area spreads out with many restaurants, cafes and shops where you can enjoy good food or shopping. If you enjoy eating, Miyajima is famous for oysters and anago conger eels. Large oysters with thick flesh are in season from fall. Grilled oysters, prepared by roasting them quickly in their shells, are exquisite. Light but fatty anago conger eel is usually served as “kabayaki”, grilled with a salty-sweet sauce, but is also delicious when served as tempura or braised. As souvenirs, “Shamoji (rice paddles)”, which are tools used to serve rice but also used to write down wishes, or “Momiji Manju”, a sponge cake shaped like a maple leaf filled with bean paste, are popular. Traditional craftworks with beautiful wooden grain patterns such as Rokuro Zaiku (produced using turnery) and Miyajimabori are also must-sees.