Miyajima: Floating Torii of Itsukushima Shrine
You’ve seen this iconic image in other media, but you don’t know it by name. This is the centuries-old Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社, Itsukushima Jinja), located in Itsukushima Island (popularly known as Miyajima) in the city of Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture. The shrine is famous around the world for its iconic floating torii gate. It was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996 for its Outstanding Universal Value.
The shrine and its torii are unique, standing over the waters that make it appear floating especially during high tides. The shrine complex has seventeen buildings, like the shrine pavilion, prayer hall, main hall, and theater stage, each connected by boardwalks supported by pillars erected over the sea.
We came here early in the morning, during which there a very few tourists yet. We were greeted by deer freely roaming around the island.
Even from the distance, the giant torii gate can already be seen, as if it has a mystical beauty that is truly enticing. Yet it is much more captivating when viewed up close, which we did by taking advantage of the low tide when we can freely walk on the dry beach.
While looking above from the underneath, you are overwhelmed with the torii’s majesty. Made from camphor trees, it is said to weigh almost 50 tons. It makes you wonder how they built it. Its dazzling brilliant vermillion colors stand out with the waters and the skies.
Miyajima literally means “island of the gods”, and it became an object of faith by the ancient belief. Ancient people considered the grounds as sacred. Because of this belief, the O-torii and shrine were built over the sea near the foreshore area.
Enshrined in Itsukushima are three goddesses in Japanese mythology, each being related to water and storms. The shrine’s scenery is captivating especially when being reflected by the sea.
By sunset, we came back to the torii. This time, the tide is already high, giving the torii another unique view. Tourists were patiently enjoying its captivating look as the sun slowly sets. As nightfall begins, the shrine gets illuminated, that makes it appear like floating amidst the darkness.
The torii gate is a gateway to a sacred area. And a scenery like this is reminding us that this island is indeed a shrine for the goddesses.
The three deities of Itsukushima Shrine were born when Amaterasu Ōmikami (goddess of the sun) and her brother Susanoo-no-mikoto made a pledge on the Celestial Plain, using a jewel and a sword. Since ancient times, they have been revered and worshipped as deities that ensure the well-being of the imperial family, guard the nation and protect seafarers.
When the deities were looking for the best location to settle, Saeki no Kuramoto, who governed the island, received an oracle. Led by a divine crow from the Celestial Plain, he sailed around the island with the deities and decided to build a shrine at this place where the tide ebbs and flows. According to an ancient record, this took place in 593, the year Empress Suiko ascended the throne.
In 1168, Taira no Kiyomori, who worshipped at the shrine, rebuilt it in the shinden-zukuri style, an architectural style in which residences of the nobility were built in those days. As Kiyomori assumed higher posts in the imperial court, not only the Taira clan but many other eminent people also visited the shrine, including members of the imperial family and aristocrats, such as former Emperor Goshirakawa, who had joined a Buddhist order, in 1174 and retired Emperor Takakura in March and September of 1180. They brought with them the culture of Kyoto.
After the Taira regime, the shrine was revered and patronized by the ruling Genji clan, then by Ashikaga Takauji (1305-1358) and Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) and other shoguns of the Muromachi period, and by the Ōuchi and Mōri clans during the Warring States period.
- ¥300 – Shrine Complex
Viewing of the O-Torii Gate is free.
- About 1 hour from Kamiyacho (center of Hiroshima City) to Hiroden Miyajimaguchi (Y410). Walk to the ferry port. About 10 minutes from Miyajimaguchi Port to Miyajima Island by ferry (Y180).