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Miyajima is a small island that is located around an hour away from the city of Hiroshima. Miyajima is especially famous for its Itsukushima Shrine which is the location of the famous giant torii gate which appears to be floating in the water during high tide.
Considered to be one of the 'Three Views of Japan', Miyajima and the Itsukushima Shrine are often on the top of travelers’ lists of things to see. In this article, we will break down everything you need to know about the Itsukushima Shrine, as well as some other attractions located on Miyajima Island.
The fact that Miyajima means "shrine island" in Japanese shows how closely related the shrine and the island are in the minds of the public. The Itsukushima Shrine and its torii gate are very unique in Japan for being built over the water instead of on land.
The reason the temple was built over the water was that the island of Miyajima was considered to be sacred and the builders did not want to harm or destroy the sacred soil. In fact, the name Itsukushima means "island of worship".
After the shrine was completed, the name of the shrine spread far and wide throughout Japan and attracted visitors that wished to come and pay homage. During the Edo period (1603-1968), it was very popular for fishermen and tradesmen to sail to the shrine, and soon after, many people from western Japan were making the pilgrimage.
Today, the Itsukushima Shrine is still a very important location in the Shinto religion and was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996. Now, along with the worshipers who make the pilgrimage, the shrine also attracts visitors from all over the world who want to get a glimpse of its serene beauty.
The current Itsukushima Shrine was built in the year 1168 by Taira no Kiyomori who was a Samurai and the most powerful man in Japan at the end of the Heian Period. At that time Miyajima Island was considered to be a god, so the Samurai chose to build the temple offshore in order not to harm the god while constructing the shrine.
Taira no Kiyomori believed he owed his life and all of his success to a goddess and wanted to build the shrine in order to honor and worship her. So he spent much of his money on the shrine and would bring his friends, family, and even royalty to worship there.
For most of history, common people were not allowed to step foot on the island because at that time it was believed to be the only way to maintain its purity. So, in order for the common people to pay homage at the shrine, they would approach it by boat through the torii gate and were not allowed to set foot on the island.
The shrine complex consists of multiple buildings, including the Marodo Shrine, the main shrine and the Noh stage, which are all raised on pillars above the sea and connected by boardwalks. 200 meters from the main shrine stands the impressive floating torii gate which is not connected to the shrine by boardwalk but can be seen by ship or walked to during low tide.
When entering the shrine, most visitors will begin in the Marodo Shrine building which is the first you will see after walking along the eastern corridor. This is the largest shrine, other than the main shrine, and is dedicated to five male deities.
After visiting the Marodo Shrine, visitors can stop at the main shrine which includes a worship and a purification hall. This main shrine is one of the largest in Japan and was built to give a spacious feel, with no doors or walls, while maintaining a sacred atmosphere. The main shrine is dedicated to the three female deities who are the goddesses of the sea, transport, fortune, and art.
The Itsukushima Shrine is the only one in Japan that has a stage constructed over water. Although the Noh Stage was built after the main shrine buildings by the Mori clan, it quickly became a central part of the rituals in the shrine. If you visit the shrine during a festival (there are around ten every year) you will see traditional music and dance being performed on the stage, with the O-torii Gate and sea as the backdrop.
The O-torii Gate is located away from the other shrine buildings, but standing at 16 meters high it can be seen from many locations within the shrine. In Shintoism, torii gates are considered to be the boundary between the human and the spirit world, and although there are many torii gates in Japan, few are as large and none are as picturesque as this one.
Unlike in ancient times, today everyone is allowed to explore the Miyajima Island. In fact, there are many wonderful ryokans where visitors can spend the night, although most travelers take a day-trip to the island and return to the mainland at night.
Miyajima is often considered to be a romantic and spiritual place to visit, and besides the Itsukushima Shrine, there are many other attractions to see on the island. Below are some of our favorites.
Mount Misen is the highest peak on the island and has been worshipped by the local people since the 6th century. From the top of the mountain, you can get great views on the entire island, and on clear days it offers incredible views of the sea and even the city of Hiroshima on the mainland.
There are a few options for exploring the mountain, including hiking or riding the chairlift up to the observation deck. There are three hiking paths up Mount Misen including the Momijidani, the Daisho-in, and the Omoto. Each path is about a two-hour hike. Daisho-in offers the best views and is also easier and less steep than the other two.
There are deer all over the island and they are sometimes seen along the mountain paths. In the Shinto religion they are considered to be holy and messengers of the gods. The deer on Miyajima are tame and friendly, but it's important to note that if you feed them they are likely to follow you and beg for food until you leave the island.
The Daisho-in Temple is a beautiful Buddhist temple that is located along the Daisho-in trail up Mount Misen. Tucked away in the trees, this temple is very peaceful and also offers a great view of the rest of the island.
Within the temple, visitors can see many Buddhas, shrines, prayer wheels, and halls. Daisho-in is also the home of the Spiritual Flame which was said to have been lit by the famous religious leader Kobo Daishi and has been burning ever since. This flame was used to light the Flame of Peace which burns in Hiroshima's Peace Park.
The goal of the Museum of History is to protect the culture and traditions of the people of Miyajima, by preserving the home of a merchant family. This home belonged to the Egamis family who were merchant farmers. The home contains poetry, furniture, pottery, photographs, and other artifacts that were used by the family and show their traditions.
Omotesando Street is the main visitors street on the island and includes an array of restaurants, coffee shops, gift shops, and candy stores. There are also shops that sell souvenirs such as artwork and replicas of historical artifacts. It's a fun place to explore while visiting the island. If you have time, you can even see the world's largest rice spoon.
The Five-Story Pagoda is quite a beautiful sight. Standing at about 30 meters tall and located near the water, it is a great place for beautiful pictures as well as peaceful meditation.
This pagoda is most famous for housing the Buddha of Medicine and is most beautiful during the cherry blossom season because it is surrounded by cherry trees.
We recommend visiting Miyajima and the Itsukushima Shrine with a guide in order to have a relaxed and memorable experience. A half-day is the perfect amount of time to spend on the island in order to see the famous Floating Torii Gate and have time to explore other temples and shrines on the island.
Before visiting the shrine, it's a good idea to look up the timings of the high and low tide when you are visiting. While high tide offers the most striking and serene photos of the O-torii Gate, during low tide visitors can walk out to the gate and take close-up pictures of it.
Most visitors travel to Miyajima Island by ferry from Hiroshima. The Itsukushima Shrine is only a 10-minute walk from the Miyajima Pier.
Itsukushima Shrine opens at 6:30 am every day. Closing times vary depending on the season; in the spring and summer months, the shrine closes at 6 pm. In the late autumn and early spring months, the shrine closes at 5:30 pm. During the winter months, the shrine closes at 5 pm.
Want to learn about and explore Miyajima Island and the Itsukushima Shrine while visiting Japan? Take a moment to contact our experts for more information about touring Miyajima and our tailor-made Japan adventures. Our goal is to help all visitors have the best travel experience by arranging trips that fit their desires and their schedule. Drop us a line here to get started.