Itsukushima Shrine

Adrian Morales

Haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been wanting to talk about this place since I got back, but my initial draft went too much into the history and I wasn’t feeling very good about its structure. I guess I’ll just write about what I felt when I was there.

Itsukushima Shrine is located on Miyajima Island off the bay of Hiroshima. it’s about a 4–5 hour trip by Shinkansen from Tokyo. Only two if you’re coming from Kyoto. Once you arrive at Hiroshima station, you need to take a local line leading to Miyajimaguchi Eki which contains two ferries to the island. If you have a JR pass, there’s a ferry covered by the pass giving you free access to the island. The shrine itself has an entrance fee(300 yen), but the temple and hiking path increases the fee if you’re interested in that.

My friend and I arrived at Miyajima around 12–1 pm on a pretty cloudy Tuesday. It was raining a little bit. As you take approach the island, the sight of the famous torii becomes more and more visible. Arriving here before the tide allows you to reach the torii by land. The entire shrine is built on the shore which means once the tide comes in that the torii is inaccessible.

This was taken as I finished my tour of the shrine. By then, the weather started to clear up a little. However, this was just two days after having experienced what happens when you miss the last train home. I wasn’t aiming for a repeat even though in the back of my mind I wanted to stay.

Itsukushima Shrine dates back more than a millenia. It’s current representation is largely the result of the Taira clan’s effort at the end of the Heian period. The Taira were a clan with ties to the imperial family. They held the reins of power for some time before it was taken by the Minamoto clan(another offshoot of the imperials).

The shrine itself is composed of several parts besides the gate(probably the most famous). You have this pagoda northwest of the entrance accompanied by the Hokoku where Hideyoshi Toyotomi is enshrined. It has tatami mats and according to the guide given at the entrance, it is known commonly as the Senjokaku(thousand tatami hall).

Enshrined are not only the main deities, but guest deities like the matchmaking deity Okuninushi-no-mikoto. Sugawara no Michizane is also enshrined here(he’s pretty famous it seems). During Taira’s time, the shrine was largely used as a site for ceremonial dances called bugaku which continue till this day. They took place at what the guidebook calls the Takabutai. From here, the Otorii can be seen and it must have been a very special sight to see the gate in the midst of a ceremonial dance. Musicians accompanying this dance would sit in special chambers to the left or right. Going towards the exit(right from this stage)leads you through the shrines of Okuninushi, the amulet office, and another stage where noh plays are performed.

From this vantage point(Takabutai), you can see straight across the other side to Hiroshima. From here, most visitors took pictures of themselves with their families, significant others, friends, and what not. I just stared out at the sea and took a picture of the torii.

I tried to imagine how this view has changed with the passage of time. Ferries cross this distance in less than 15 minutes now, yet, there’s a sense of continuity of seeing that gate loom in the distance. That same view has been around for almost a thousand years and I felt connected to the long history of the shrine because of this. This feeling is what I miss most about Japan being back home. It’s this connection back through time that’s tangible and significantly more visible that makes me want to return as soon as possible.


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