Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Miyajima: Itsukushima Shrine

For centuries, Miyajima Island has been considered as the island of the Gods by the Japanese. The island has been mentioned in the Nihon Shoki, the earliest chronicles of Japan's history. 

In the 806 AD the Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi proclaimed the island's highest peak, Mount Misen as a holy spot for the Shingon Sect of BuddhismThe island has been a holy site for the Shinto faith since the 6th century. In 1168, Taira no Kiyomori, Japan's most powerful man towards the end of the Heian period established his family's shrine on the island and built the Itsukushima Shrine. 
The island is called Miyajima - which means Shrine Island - for this reason. The island's formal name is also the same as the name of the Shrine- Itsukushima. 
 The Shrine and it's floating Torii gate are a symbol of the region. The Shrine has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage. The island is considered as one of the three spots that make up " Nihon Sankei", the three scenic views of Japan; the other two being Matsushima in Miyagi Prefecture and Amanohashidate in Kyoto Prefecture. 

Japan is a country with many islands and shrines and temples. So what makes Miyajima so special ?  The uniquity of Miyajima is that the shrine and the torii gate are built over water and during high tide, they appear to float in the sea.
Visitors are advised to check the tide timings before planning their visit because the water drains out to the bay during low tide. High tide is when the shrine complex is at its picturesque best. 
The Shrine complex consists of numerous buildings connected by board walks supported by pillars in the sea. 

A number of the shrine buildings and monuments have been designated National monuments. 

Due to its wooden architecture and proximity to water, the shrine buildings require frequent maintenance and upkeep. In more recent years, the shrine suffered considerable damage during typhoon but has been restored.   
The hanging lanterns along the shrine's walkways add to the beauty of the views. 
The giant Torii gate is the gateway to the Shrine. The first Torii gate was constructed as early as in 1168 and was located 200 meters offshore. The current Torii was built in 1875 and is the shrine's eighth Torii. It weighs 60 tons and measures about 16.6 meters in height. The main pillar is made of 500-600 year old camphor trees which make it resistant to decay. The sleeve pillars and the roof are made of cedar and cypress trees. The architecture of the Torii differs from the Torii at most Shinto shrines - the main pillars are supported by 4 smaller pillars. The Torii is not buried the seabed , rather it is supported by its own weight.The box shaped upper part of the Torii is said to be filled with stones weighing 7 tons ! No wonder, the Torii is able to withstand typhoons and storms without toppling over. 
During high tide, few cruise boats pass beneath the Torii. We saw some people kayaking underneath the Torii. 
During low tide, people can walk beneath the Torii.

The shrine and the Torii gate are illuminated after sunset and make a pretty sight, especially when viewed from the cruise boats.

The deer roaming on the island technically belong to the the Itsukushima shrine. in the Shinto faith, deer are believed to be the messengers of God. 

In August, the Miyajima Fireworks attracts thousands of visitors. The colorful fireworks in the backdrop of the floating shrine and torii gate make it a pretty sight. 

Opening Hours: 6:30 am to 6:00 pm. 

Closed: Open 365 days

Admission: Adults- 300 yen; ( Combination ticket including Treasure Hall - 500 yen) 

The Daisho-in temple and Senjokaku Hall are located close to the Itsukushima Shrine.  

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