The Itsukushima Shrine is a Shinto shrine located between the Ri and Itsukushima islands near Hatsukaichi City, Hiroshima Prefecture, famous for its torii gates floating on the sea. As the head shrine of the approximately 500 Itsukushima shrines located across the country, it is a must-see spot for any visitors, Japanese or foreign, visiting Hiroshima. Here are the 5 things you should know before visiting the place, for a more fulfilling experience.
On December 1996, a wide area covering 14% the surface area of Miyajima Island, including Itsukushima Shrine, was registered as an UNESCO Cultural World Heritage. This includes the shrine itself and its premises, the sea it overlooks, and the Misen Virgin Forest surrounding it, which is a natural monument in and of itself.
1. The Beautiful Nature Scenery Of Itsukushima Island
The first thing we want to talk about is the natural ecosystem of the Itsukushima/ Miyajima Island, whose name carries the meaning of “The island where the gods reside/ that enshrines and worships the gods”. The entire island has been considered an object of worship since ancient times, and throughout history a rich ecosystem and numerous local legends have been carefully preserved and passed down the generations. Chief among them is the Misen Mountain, surrounded by a pristine virgin forest, and which houses a beautiful grand canyon that changes its appearance with the season. The surrounding sea also makes for a breathtaking contrast with the island, and is considered one of the Three Great Sceneries of Japan, alongside the Matsushima Islands and the Amanohashidate sandbar.
2. The Most Popular Symbol: “Great Torii Gate”
The second item on this list is the towering vermillion-painted great torii gate of the shrine. It is the largest wooden torii in Japan, about 16 meters high and 23.3 meters long along the ridge. The most surprising thing about this humongous gate made out of natural camphor wood is that it is not rooted in the ground, and is standing upright on its own thanks only to its massive weight. There is also a fireworks festival in the summer, and that impressive symphony of water, light and sound has proven to be quite popular with a lot of tourists.
3. The Strange Corridor Opening Into The Sea
Thirdly, we would like to talk about a certain corridor on shrine grounds. It is a straightforward corridor 4 meters wide and reaching up to 275 meters in length, a masterpiece of engineering. Gaps of a type called “mesukashi” are made in the floor planks, and this has the effect of weakening the pressure from the rising sea water below during high tides, an achievement in construction only possible in a shrine floating on the sea like this.
4. The Noh Stage On The Sea
The fourth attraction is a Noh performance stage constructed during the Edo Period. Designated as an important cultural property, it is the only floating Noh stage in all of Japan.
For a normal Noh stage, earthenware pots are placed under the floor to make sounds resonate better, but since this particular stage is floating on the sea, the floor is constructed of a single layer of plank to make the sounds of feet beating on them echo farther. These echoes also vary depending on the ebb and flow of the tides. It is also the stage for various events, such as the Touka Saishin Noh performance during the spring, or the tea offering festival held annually alternating between the Omotesenke and Urasenke families, famous practitioners of the Way of Tea.
5. Momijidani Park, Perfect For Enjoying Nature
The fifth and final attraction we wish to introduce is the Momijidani Park, at the foot of Misen Mountain. Although it may look like a natural valley, it is actually a man-made structure. The Itsukushima Shrine has often been suffering from mud and rock flows since ancient times, and during one restoration effort, they moved the valley’s location to where it is nowadays, and put in effort to make it look as natural as possible. Almost nobody can tell it is man-made without being told so, making it perfect for enjoying the beauty of nature. Would you not like to visit it in Autumn, and see the falling leaves?
The Itsukushima Shrine, floating on the sea, was known in antiquity as “Miyajima of Aki”. When you have the chance to visit Hiroshima, please do make sure to experience its beautiful scenery for yourself.
Top image：NAVERまとめ 美しい日本の世界遺産たち
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