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

① The shrine on the water showing the prosperity of the Taira clan.


It was originally built in 593 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.

② The shrine made to protect 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.

③ Paying homage at Itsukushima Shrine was very popular in Edo Japan.

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

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.

④ 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


① A shrine with an almost mythical beauty

The holy shrine at one with the nature surrounding it

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.

② 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.

③ 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.

④ 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

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.

⑤ The beautiful scenery changes with the tide

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

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.

⑥ The O-Torii gate, full of elegance and style

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.

⑦ Visiting the O-Torii gate on foot

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

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.

⑧ Entering the Shinto shrine through the O-Torii gate

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

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.

① Enjoy the high quality craftsmanship of the East and West Corridor

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

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.

② The Noh stage watched by samurai from across the ages

Looking at the Noh stage from the western corridor

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.

③ Bugaku traditional court dance and music

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

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.

④ Unearth the secrets of the O-Torii gate

The more you find out, the more you will want to find out about 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.

⑤ Don't miss the illuminations after dark

A beautiful scene unfolds when the shrine is lit 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.

⑥ Mt. Misen is popular as a hot-spot of spiritual energy

A view of the Seto Inland Sea from Mt. Misen

Since the opening of the temple by Kobo Daishi in 806, 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.

「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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