Translated by Hilary Keyes
Home Of The Gods - Itsukushima Shrine, A World Heritage Site
Written by Maki
With its floating Great Torii, it's no wonder that Itsukushima Shrine has become an international icon of Japan, found in guidebooks all over the world. Let's take a closer look at the worldwide famous Itsukushima shrine.
Itsukushima Shrine (Itsukushima jinja 厳島神社) is found on Miyajima island just off the coast from Hiroshima prefecture. Found in an inlet on the Inland Sea and with its seemingly floating Great Torii Gate, it's no wonder that Itsukushima Shrine has become an international icon of Japan, found in guidebooks all over the world. Originally known as Itsukushima, the name Miyajima derives from the term "Omiya ga aru" ("there is a shrine here"), which became quite popular. Let's take a closer look at the worldwide known Itsukushima shrine.
Read also: The Great Torii - Strolling Around Miyajima's Itsukushima Shrine (Japanese)
Floating in the Sea: The Great Torii
Standing in the sea off from Itsukushima shrine is the Great Torii (*1), with a height of 16 m and weighing roughly 60 tons. The original shrine was built over 1400 years ago and reconstructed numerous times, the present torii was constructed nearly 140 years ago. The most surprising point of this torii is that, rather than having its foundation deep underground, this torii's base rises up from the ocean floor.
*1... torii - a gate with a distinctive structure marking the entrance to a Shintō shrine.
The Rise and Fall of the Tides Enhancing the Beauty of the Scenery
The scenery around this unique shrine changes constantly, most noticeably as the tides roll in and out. When the tide rises above 250 cm, it looks as though Itsukushima shrine is floating on the water. And, when the water recedes below 100 cm, it's possible to walk around the base of the Great Torii. On days where the ebb and flow of the water is greatest, if you are able to spend the day on Miyajima, you will be able to experience both views of the shrine and torii. For more information on the tides and the views, please check the Miyajima Tourist Association homepage.
The Solemn Atmosphere of the Inner Shrine
Thanks to the elegance of the brilliant vermillion torii standing out at sea, Itsukushima Shrine has been listed as a national treasure in Japan. Three goddesses are enshrined within the inner sanctuary of the main shrine of Itsukushima, while the distance from the main shrine to the Great Torii itself is roughly 160 meters.
At Itsukushima there are also two stages that exclusively feature the Japanese traditional arts of Bugaku (court dance and music) and Noh (a traditional performing art combining chant and dance). In addition to all these unique points, there is also the sharply angle arch of the bridge Sorabashi and the bright contrast of the vermilion posts and corridors. Visitors can enjoy an unlimited number of amazing sights here.
There Are Hundreds of Deer!
As you stroll around Miyajima, you will see deer everywhere you look. In fact, there are about 500 deer that call Miyajima home, and during the daytime when there are plenty of tourists about, the deer all like to gather near the shrine. If the tides are low enough, you just might be able to take a photo with some deer near the Great Torii too! Because the deer are still wildlife, you should avoid feeding them if possible.
The Local Delicacy - Anago
From the past to present day Miyajima, one dish in particular has defined the area: anago (conger eel). There are more than 20 shops selling this local specialty both on Miyajima and on the mainland near the port.
Made with fluffy, grilled and sliced eel resting on a bed of steaming hot rice, the dish anago meshi is also a hit with tourists.
But keep in mind, most of the shops and restaurants on Miyajima itself close around 17:00, so it might be best to enjoy your anago meshi for lunch instead.
From JR Hiroshima station take the San’yō honsen line to JR Miyajima station, or take the Hiroden line from Hiroshima to Hiroshima Dentetsu Miyajimaguchi station. After a five minute walk, you will reach the Miyajima Ferry Depot. Both the JR Western Japan Miyajima Ferry and the Miyajima Matsudai Steamship depart from the depot about every 15 minutes for Miyajima.
By ferry you will arrive at Miyajima in about 10 minutes. If you take the JR Western Japan Miyajima Ferry, as you approach Miyajima, you will cruise by quite close to the Great Torii. If you would prefer to get a look at the Great Torii from the ocean, you should definitely take the Great Torii route instead.
Getting Around on Miyajima
The main tourist area of Miyajima is well within two kilometers of Itsukushima Shrine itself, so the best way to get about is on foot. If you would like to stay at the camping grounds in Tsutsumigaura or want to check out the family-favorite Miyajima Aquarium, there is a bus service that travels around the island, called the Maple Liner. For more details about the bus, please check out their schedule here (link opens a PDF).
There are only three taxis on Miyajima; if you are traveling with a large group of people or carrying lots of luggage, taxis are the way to go.
When between customers, the taxis can be found waiting at the ferry depot.
Visitors from all over the world come to Itsukushima Shrine just to get a glimpse of the Great Torii standing in the waves. More than 4 million people make the trip to this tiny but incredibly popular island yearly. Not only the sight of the Great Torii, but the dignified grace and beauty of Itsukushima Shrine is captivating in and of itself. By all means, if you have the opportunity, seeing the awe-inspiring sights of Itsukushima Shrine is a chance not to be missed.
Address: Hiroshima, Hatsukaichi, Miyajimamachi 1-1
Hours: Jan. 6 - Feb. 28: 6:30-17:30; March 1 - Oct. 14: 6:30-18:00; Oct. 15 - Nov. 30: 6:30-17:30; Dec. 1 - Dec. 31: 6:30-17:00
Closed: Open all year
Credit cards: None
Other Languages: English and Chinese pamphlets
Menus in Other Languages: None
Nearest Station: JR San'yō honsen Miyajimaguchi Station (宮島口駅).
Access: 5-minute walk from Miyajimaguchi Station to Miyajimaguchi ferry docks, then 10-minute ferry ride to Miyajima
Price Range: Adults 300 yen, High school 200 yen, Middle/Elementary 100 yen
Religious Considerations: Shintō
Phone Number: 0829-44-2020
Homepage: Itsukushima Shrine (Japanese)