Nestled on the shores of the tranquil Seto Inland Sea in Japan, Miyajima Island is home to one of the country’s most iconic and breathtaking shrines: Itsukushima Jinja. Also known as the “floating shrine,” Itsukushima Jinja is built entirely on stilts over the water. During high tide, the water makes seem as though it’s floating. The shrine’s picturesque torii gate, standing majestically in the water, is one of the most photographed spots in Japan. Visitors flock to Miyajima to witness the beauty of this incredible shrine, surrounded by the island’s lush greenery and tranquil atmosphere.
History of Itsukushima Jinja
Itsukushima Jinja dates back to the 6th century. At this time a small shrine was built on Miyajima Island to honour the goddess of the sea and storms, Toyotama-hime. Over time, the shrine grew in importance and size, becoming a popular destination for pilgrims and worshippers from across Japan.
The current incarnation of Itsukushima Jinja was built in the 12th century during the Heian period. The shrine’s design and construction were heavily influenced by the Shinden-zukuri style of architecture, which was popular during the period. The shrine’s iconic torii gate was also built during this time; it has since become one of the most recognizable symbols of Japan.
Why is it called “floating”?
The construction of Itsukushima Jinja on the water was a deliberate choice. The result evokes a sense of awe and wonders in those who visited the shrine. The architects and builders of the shrine believed that by building it on the water, they created a place of sacredness and purity. It would protect the shrine from the impurities of the earth. The design of the shrine also allowed for the changing tides of the Seto Inland Sea to surround the shrine. This only added to its sense of ethereality and mysticism.
Over the centuries, Itsukushima Jinja played an important role in the religious and cultural life of Japan. The shrine was believed to have the power to protect sailors and travellers from harm. As a result, many people made the pilgrimage to Miyajima Island to seek its blessings. Before Buddhism and Shintoism were separated during the Meiji Restoration, the shrine was also an important site for Shintoism. Members of the imperial family and other important figures often visited during this period.
During the Edo period (1603-1868), Miyajima Island became a popular destination for tourists and travellers. Its sacredness and Itsukushima Jinja were major draws. Visitors flocked to the shrine’s beauty and the sense of tranquillity and serenity that surrounded it. However, the increased tourism also brought with it new challenges. Crowds and commercialization threatened to damage the delicate ecosystem of the island.
In response to these challenges, the Japanese government designated Miyajima Island as a national park in 1934. UNESCO declared the shrine a World Heritage Site in 1996. Today, visitors can still experience the awe-inspiring beauty and sacredness of Itsukushima Jinja. The island remains an important pilgrimage site for those seeking the blessings and protection of the shrine.
The Floating Torii
The floating torii gate is one of the most iconic and recognizable symbols of Japan. Standing at a height of 16 meters and weighing around 54 tonnes (approx. 60 tons), the gate appears to float on the surface of the water. Especially during high tide, this creates a breathtaking and awe-inspiring sight for viewers.
The torii gate was first built in the 12th century, during the Heian period, as part of the construction of Itsukushima Jinja. The gate was designed to be visible from a distance. The decision to build it on the water created a sense of ethereality and mysticism. The gate would also serve as a barrier to keep impurities and evil spirits out of the shrine.
Over the centuries, the torii gate at Itsukushima Jinja has undergone several renovations and repairs. In the 16th century, the gate was rebuilt using camphor wood due to its durability and resistance to water damage. Again in the 19th century, the gate was repaired using the same techniques and materials as the original construction.
In recent years, the gate has undergone several restoration projects, including a major renovation in 2019. This included dismantling the gate and replacing its foundations to ensure its stability and longevity.
Visiting Itsukushima Jinja
To get to Miyajima, you need to take one of the ferries. First, fly or take the train to Hiroshima. From there, you have 2 ferry options: the first is from Grand Prince Hotel Ferry Dock in Hiroshima. This ferry takes about an hour or so and is a private option.
The other ferry is a public ferry (Japan Rail) that goes from Hiroden-Miyajimaguchi Station. Simply take a train on the Sanyo Line to Miyajimaguchi station. This takes about half an hour from Hiroshima Station. You can also take one of the tram lines from Hiroshima, but this will take approximately 1.5 hours. Since the ferry is public, this means it is part of the rail system. If you bought a rail pass, you can use it on this ferry. IC cards also work for payment when boarding. The cost as of March 2023 is ￥200. This ferry departs every 10 minutes. It takes approximately 10 minutes to reach the island.
My advice is to visit the shrine, once at high tide and once at low tide. At high tide, you see the majesty of the shrine and the mysticism created by the ocean surrounding the temple. At low tide, you are able to walk out to the torii gate and take some amazing photos. If you can, visit (and enter) the shrine while the tide is high. This costs ￥300 for an adult.
While you are waiting for the tides, there are several other things to do on the island. The nearby Daishoin Buddhist temple dating back to the 8th century is one such example. Another is the covered streets of the town, offering local beers, products and food. Both are definitely worth a visit!
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