miyajima: itsukushima-jinja & the floating o-torii gate   12 comments

Wednesday, August 2:  After leaving Senjo-kaku Pavilion, I make my way down to the water to see the “floating” O-torii Gate of Itsukushima Shrine.

In December of 1996, the World Heritage Committee official designated Itsukushima Shinto Shrine as a World Cultural Heritage site.  The area includes 431.2 hectares including the building of Itsukushima Shrine, the sea to the front, and the Mt. Misen Primeval Forest (Natural Treasure) to the rear.  This wide area covers nearly 14% of Miyajima Island.

The O-torii Gate of Itsukushima Shrine is designated as a National Important Cultural Property.  It is about 16.6 meters tall and weighs about 60 tons.  Its roof, thatched with Japanese cypress bark, is 24.2 meters long. The main pillars, 9.9 meters in circumference, are made of natural camphor trees, while the four supporting pillars are made of natural cedar. The present O-torii, which is the 8th since the Heian period, was erected in 1875.  The top rail of the torii has a hollow space, and stones the size of one’s fist are put inside as a weight (7 tons in all).  The gate stands under its own weight.

When I reach the shrine, it’s 2:20 p.m., still quite a long time until high tide at 6:42 p.m.  At least it’s not low tide (which was 11:46 a.m.), when it is the least scenic, sitting as it does in the muddy sand at low tide. Because the tide is still somewhat low, people are wading around by the gate.

first glimpse of the O-torii Gate at Itsukushima-jinja

The Miyajima deer are relaxing in the shade, a smart move as it’s in about 95 degrees F (around 35C) and very humid.

deer in Miyajima

Itsukushima Shrine is dedicated to the three Munakata goddesses, Ichikishima-hime, Tagitsu-hime and Tagori-hime.  These three goddesses are worshiped as deities of sea, traffic safety, fortune and accomplishment.

As I join the people wading near the O-torii Gate, I can see on the shore the shrine sitting on stilts in the sand.  The water will reach the shrine at sunset, during high tide at 6:42 p.m.

Itsukushima Shrine

I wade out to the O-torii Gate, enjoying the lapping of the slightly cool water on my feet and calves.

O-Torii Gate 2

O-Torii Gate 3

O-Torii Gate 5

O-Torii Gate 6

I make my way through the water to the opposite shore.

O-Torii Gate 10

O-Torii Gate 11

The map below shows my route so far.  I came from the ferry on the bottom left of the map, walked along Omotesando Shopping Arcade, went up to the Five Story Pagoda and Senjo-kaku Pavilion, and then made my way down to the O-torii Gate.  I know there are more temples to see in the hills to the right, so, I head in that direction.  I walk through Daigani Temple and then walk uphill to Daishoin Temple.  I will go through Itsukushima Shrine after visiting these shrines so it will be closer to high tide.

Miyajima Guide Map

I walk briefly through Daiganji Temple, which until the Meiji Restoration (1868), was in charge of the repair and construction of the Itsukushima Shrine.  It is dedicated to Benzaiten, the Goddess of eloquence, music, wisdom and wealth.  The statue below is a wood carving, but I’m not sure of whom.

figure at Daiganji Temple

You can read more about Daiganji Temple here.

Daiganji Temple

On the way to the path to Daishoin, I pass the Benzaiten statue and Itsukushima Shrine before heading uphill.

Buddha figure with Itsukushima Shrine in the background

I also walk past the Miyajima History and Folklore Museum, but I don’t go in.  The museum preserves the main house and part of a storehouse which formerly belonged to the Egami family, one of the most prosperous merchant families in Miyajima. On display are about 1,000 items of a wide range of Miyajima folklore materials, including ancient documents, paintings and woodcraft.

Miyajima History and Folklore Museum

I head uphill to Daishoin Temple, where I spend nearly an hour.  In the interest of keeping everything about Itsukushima Shrine in one blog post, I’ll write about Daishoin in another post.

I leave the Miyajima History and Folklore Museum at nearly 3:00, and, after visiting Daishoin, by 4:00, I’m back down to the Itsukushima Shrine.  I have to walk all the way around to the other side to get into the shrine through the entrance.

Itsukushima Shrine

deer near Itsukushima Shrine

Finally, I’m in the pavilion walkways of Itsukushima Shrine.  It’s the perfect beach shrine, with its open-air walkways.

Itsukushima Shrine

Though it’s now after 4:00, only an hour and a half from high tide, the water has still not reached the shrine, although some rippling pools of water are making their way up slowly.

Itsukushima Shrine 2

I love the lanterns swinging in a slight breeze in the pavilions.

Itsukushima Shrine

The shrine is known for its unique construction, displaying the artistic beauty of the Shinden style of architecture. First built in 593, it was remodeled into the present grand structure by a powerful figure, Taira-no-Kiyomori, in 1168. Its placement on the water, beautifully framed by the mountain in the background, is testimony to Kiyomori’s extraordinary vision and achievement.

Itsukushima Shrine

lanterns at Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine is composed of a main shrine, a Noh drama stage, music rooms, halls and several other shrines arranged around it.  All these structures are connected by corridors with a total length of about 300 meters.

Itsukushima Shrine at low tide

Itsukushima Shrine with the Five Story Pagoda behind

Itsukushima Shrine

After leaving the shrine, I can see O-torii Gate at Itsukushima Shrine.  It’s now about 4:20. Now the water is too deep for waders, so no one is in the water.

O-Torii Gate at higher tide

O-Torii Gate at higher tide

O-Torii Gate at higher tide

Itsukushima Shrine

ema at Itsukushima Shrine

The vermilion color of the shrine and of the O-torii is considered to keep evil spirits away. The shrine buildings are coated with vermilion lacquer, which is also efficient as protection from corrosion.

Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine

last view of the O-torii Gate

I have my last view of the O-torii gate at 4:30 p.m.  If I could only stay two more hours, I’d see the shrine covered at high tide, but I’m worried about catching the ferry back to Hiroshima, where my hotel is. It’s a shame I didn’t spend the night here.

It’s quite a long haul back to Hiroshima, first on a different ferry, larger than the one I took to get here, and then a long train ride back to Hiroshima.  In Hiroshima, I look forward to sampling Hiroshima’s famous dish: okonomiyaki, similar to Osaka’s but with noodles.

12 responses to “miyajima: itsukushima-jinja & the floating o-torii gate

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  1. Great post. Miyajima is one of those special places in Japan. It’s fun to walk around the torii gate at low tide.

    • Thanks so much, Jennifer, or Stewie! I loved Miyajima. It would have been more pleasant had it not been so hot, but I loved what I saw even in the heat. It felt great to wade by the O-torii and cool off a bit. 🙂

  2. This was my favourite place in Japan so far. It is just so beautiful! Unfortunately by the time we made it to the O-Torii it was no longer in the water and my pictures don’t look as good as yours. But it was still so beautiful!

    • I loved Miyajima too. I still think Kyoto is my favorite, because there are so many beautiful things there. I also love Kamakura. I could certainly spend a lot more time exploring Japan. Even if the O-torii gate wasn’t in underwater, I think it would still be pretty. 🙂

  3. Beautiful photographs. Those deer are lovely!

  4. The Torii gates are just beautiful.

  5. Lovely memories for you and a beautiful walk for me! 🙂 🙂 It’s iconic, and no matter how many photos you see it always impresses. Thanks, Cathy!

  6. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : A brief sojourn in Cascais | restlessjo

  7. Pingback: miyajima: daishō-in temple & return to hiroshima | catbird in japan

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