Miyajima: Island of Itsukushima Shrine


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(Photo by (c) Blue Wind)

1-夕景に浮かぶ大鳥居

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(Photo by (c) Photo AC)

2-厳島神社全景

 

When you were little, what kind of imagination did you cherish? Was it a castle floating in the sky or a kingdom deep under the ground?

 

Animation film director Hayao Miyazaki made a movie named “Castle in the Sky”. The huge castle literally floats in the sky where human beings live. The characteristics of his films are the realization of kids’ fantasy as it is. It is true that he has gifted talent of imagination, but more importantly, I think he still cherishes his dreamy ideas as a child.

 

Once upon a time, a samurai warrior built this shrine building as if it were floating on the sea. His name was Tairano kiyomori who first replaced court aristocracy and had all the power at the middle of 12th century. I guess the person with power cherished his dream which might be the magnificent shrine on the sea. It was named “Itsukushima Shrine” (A link to the location). The breathtaking beauty, as if we were in a dream, is said to be one of “Japan three most beautiful views”.

 

Magnificent Scenery of the Shrine Building on the Sea

 

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(Photo by (c) Tomo.Yun)

3-ライトアップされた社殿

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4-遊歩道から見た社殿

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5-遊歩道から見た社殿 引き潮

At low tide

 

 

Speaking of Hiroshima, it is well-known as the city where the atomic bomb was first dropped in the human history. From the downtown of the city, about one-hour’s drive or taking a streetcar along the coastline will soon take you the entrance to the island of deities. And the island itself is the object of worship. As you come close to the island by ship, a vermillion Shinto gateway called “torii” gets larger before you. The magnificence is beyond description even if you look actually at the scenery. It is because you may have a special experience to enter the boundary between the reality and a holy precinct of deities. Just viewing the gateway on the sea gets rid of everything you have been thinking. Well, here is a sanctuary where deities reside. (In this article, the word “Miyajima” refers to the island itself, meaning the shrine island. Itsukushima refers to the shrine.)

 

Getting off the ship at a small port, you see a lot of deer demand food. Walking some more, you can look at the vermillion gateway and building again. Here is a good shooting location like the Image 4.

I’ll explain the history a little more though we want to enter the shrine any moment from now.

 

 

 

The History

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6-平清盛像

Tairano Kiyomori

 

 

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7-瀬戸内海

The ancient capital of Kyoto is located at the upper right. This Inland sea has been important water route to the Continent.

 

 

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8-音戸大橋と音戸渡船

This narrow straight is named “Ondo-no-Seto”.

 

 

This shrine was not originally such large-scaled. As above mentioned, Tairano Kiyomori obtained a status as the Grand Minister or Dajo-Daijin next to that of an emperor. He was the first politician in Japan who valued overseas trade more than an agricultural tax.

 

At that time, Kyoto was the capital of Japan. Therefore, the Seto Inland Sea was the most important marine waters as a ship course to trade with China. He developed many havens across the area and even launched excavation work to widen a narrow and shallow straight for quick access to destinations. The narrow channel named “Ondo-no-Seto” was said to be an open-cut channel. Widespread looting by pirates was swept away or sometimes they were affiliated as his sea forces.

 

Overseas trade brought him enormous fortune which was advantages to build up his government. The shrine presides over safe navigations. For Tairano Kiyomori, superb enshrining of the deities to bring him good luck is the evidence of his religious devotion as well as that of actual benefit.

 

In retrospect today, the biggest beneficiaries are deities themselves who are enshrined in such a magnificent building, aren’t they?

 

 

The Dreamlike World

On further reflection, the second beneficiary may be our tourists who receive blessings following deities. It is because we can enjoy such spectacular views of the magnificent architecture in harmony with natural beauty.

Now, I’ll give you a tour of the inside and please get your fill!

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(Photo by (c) Photo AC)

9-社殿と釣灯籠

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(Photo by (c) Photo AC)

10-厳島神社 西側回廊

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(Photo by (c) Photo AC)

11-厳島神社の舞楽

Ancient Japanese court dance and music called “Gagaku”

 

 

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12-本社本殿・拝殿

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13-東回廊

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14-本社拝殿内部

A main hall

 

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15-厳島神社境内

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16-厳島神社社殿から大鳥居を望む 満ち潮

How did you like it? Just looking at these photos makes us feel as if we were really in the shrine! When you actually pay a visit, you will be enchanted by the breathtaking beauty.

 

Seemingly floating on the sea, the shrine posts are tenaciously built on foundation stones under sea sand. When the tide comes in, the vermillion shrine and gateway are staged to look floating.

 

However, you don’t have to be disappointed to see that the tide ebbs away. At low water, large sandy shore appears and you can walk right to the foot of the large gateway. I think it is an interesting experience as well. Many people take commemorative photos by the big pillar.

 

The shrine building is constantly exposed to seawater and posts supporting it become eroded in time. In each case, decayed one is removed and new post is replaced. By repeating this steady work endlessly, this gleaming structure keeps its beauty forever and ever.

 

The big gateway use the limbers of camphor tree which is resistant to decay. Nevertheless it has been rebuilt several times and now existing one was built in 1876. It is about time to build new one. However, the gateway length of the perimeter is about 10-meter (Approx. 3.2-feet). The challenge for the future is to seek out such big camphor trees.

 

 

 

Let’s Enjoy the Whole Miyajima Island!

 

 

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宮島のマップ

Although this shrine island is just a small town, you can enjoy a wide variety of attractive spots for both young and old. I’ll give you some examples.

 

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17-宮島の大鳥居と鹿

 

Deer

The large number of deer inhabits this island. They have been treated with favor as divine messengers. They are not afraid of human beings, instead very tame. When you arrive at a port, they follow tourists to demand food.

Treasure Hall

The hall houses a collection of treasures which were dedicated by the Heike clan led by Tairano Kiyomori. The clan made immense contributions to the Itsukushima shrine. The shrine possesses the “gilded sutras” designated national treasure the clan donated in 1164. Unfortunately, the exhibited objects are replicas.

 

Miyajima Public Aquarium

When you travel with your children, the aquarium is recommendable better than the treasure hall. The biggest draw here is a sea lions show. Children in particular are fond of such entertainment, of course adults as well.

 

Miyajima Ropeway

 

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Miyajima is a small island but the summit level of Mount Misen is as high as 535-meter (1755-feet). Climbing on foot is exhausting. This ropeway easily takes you to the summit and you can enjoy various scenery such as mountains and ocean views.

 

Mount Misen

 

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18-弥山より瀬戸内海を望む

From the summit, you can command a stunning view of wonderful Seto Inland Sea. What beautiful combination between the sea and islands!

 

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(写真提供:広島県)

19-牡蠣棚の朝

 

Rafts of cultured oysters

 

The sea around Miyajima is very famous for the cultivation of oysters. Hiroshima prefecture accounts for about half of Japan’s gross oyster production. If you don’t eat oyster cuisine, it is the same as the sad story that you cannot enjoy delicious pasta in Italy. Please have a good time at your lunch or dinner of oysters cultured in this beautiful ocean.

 

A Brief Moment of Glory

 

The Heike clan which contributed to the dramatic development of the shrine lived in regal splendor. The degree of glory and wealth was rare in Japanese history. However, the luster didn’t last so long. After Tairano Kiyomori died, the clan lost fighting and finally perished. They ruled the sea and achieved maritime prosperity but finally most of them drowned themselves at the end of a naval battle.

This historic and tragic event has had great influence on Japanese feelings of the impermanence of all things. The Itsukushima shrine is the relic of their past glory.

 

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20-厳島大鳥居の夕日

My heartfelt thanks to the photos or illustrations offered specially by

Miyajima Tourist Association


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