Itsukushima Jinja is located in Itsukushima Island or Miyajima Island in Hiroshima Bay. The island is as known as "Aki no Miyajima" and it is counted in one of Japan's three most famous scenic place.
Itsukushima Jinja is very famous outstanding shrine well known for its extremely beautiful architects in the manner of Shinden-zukuri, an architectural style of court noble's houses in Heian Era and also for its bold and unique design configuration where ocean is its main premises. When the tide is in high, the lacquered main shrine building and the other shrine buildings, which are connected to each other by corridors, appear as if they are floating on the ocean. The color contrast of blue ocean of Seto and green Misen Mountain in the background make people imagine Ryugujo, a fictitious beautiful palace under water from Japanese old fairy tales.
Itsukushima Jinja was first established in 593 by Saeki no Kuramoto. And in 1168, Saeki no Kagehiro constructed current shrine buildings on the ocean with a support from Kiyomori Taira who worshipped Itsukushima Jinja deeply. Thirty seven Naiku (inner shrine) buildings and also nineteen Geku (outer shrine) in Jigozen area at the opposite shore were constructed taking several years to be done completely. When the Taira family got bigger and stronger, Itsukushima Jinja gained its power and its reputation became more and more famous. There was a time of devastation due to unstable political situation but in 1555, Motonari Mouri who won the battle of Itsukushima, took the control of the shrine and supported it, Itsukushima Jinja gained its power again. Even Hideyoshi Toyotomi visited the shrine to pray for his long term luck in battles just before he accomplished unification of the whole country. He worshipped the shrine so much that he ordered Ekei Ankokuji to build the great sutra library, later called Senjokaku of Toyokuni Jinja, as a part of Itsukushima Jinja.
Itsukushima Jinja has been worn out so many times because alcove posts of the shrine buildings on sandy beach rotten away easily and quickly from sea water. And also in its long history the shrine was attacked by fires and other natural disasters over and over again however every time the shrine needed to be repaired, it was supported by its local citizens’ faith, and the shrine was reconstructed and repaired to remain as majestic and splendid as it originally was in Heian Era.
Although unique characteristics of architectures from those time of reconstructions can be seen in details of the shrine buildings, it truly keeps the original architectural style overall, so the shrine is very important heritage to study ancient architectural style from Heian Era.
The shrine buildings with two hundreds and seventy five meters of corridors were built in Heian Architectural Style inspired deeply from “Shinden-zukuri”. Shinden-zukuri is an architectural style of court nobles’ house from Heian Era, in which a main building (Shinden) located in the middle of premise and additional sub buildings (Tainoya) located East and West of the main building are connected to each other by corridors. In front of the main building, there is a garden where dance performance and ceremony are held, and also there is a pond in beyond.
Because the style of Shinden-zukuri was well adopted into shrine architecture and with a magnificent idea of choosing ocean of Seto instead of a pond in typical Shine-zukuri garden, Itsukushima Jinja can be called an ultimate Japanese architecture which mirrors an elegance of Heian Era
The precinct of Itsukushima Jinja is in a bow-shaped shoal beach of Mikasanohama. At low tide visitors can reach to Ootorii by walking but when tide is in, the shrine buildings and the corridors appear as if they were floating on the ocean. This fantastic and totally unexpected idea of building a shrines on the ocean which constantly changes its condition by ebb and flow of tides is so unprecedented worldwide. It was understood that the shrine was built on the ocean because of deification of the whole Miyajima Island which is considered as Shintai (object of worship believed to contains a spirit of deity), but it is also said to be that this magnificent group of shrine buildings were designed to portray what is believed to be heaven or the Pure Land based on Jodo-Shinko (the Pure Land faith). With Seto ocean in front and sacred Misen mountain in the back, Itsukushima Jinja is the amazing result of harmonizing natural beauty and artificial beauty to represent Japanese ancient faith to worship nature as a god.
To protect this beautiful scenery of the sacred shore, the environment is attentivly maintained in daily basis.
Red Ootorii (great gateway) stands high on the ocean in hundreds sixty meters from the main shrine building. The height of Ootorii is sixteen meters and it is almost the same as the height of Daibutsu (Great Buddha Statue) in Nara. It weighs about sixty tons and its central pillar is made from a natural camphor tree which is five hundreds to six hundred years old. It took about twenty years to find a qualified tree big enough to be the central pillar of current Ootorii which is the 8th one from its original.
There is even an episode that when they found the one, it was too big that cargo car transporting it to the site could not get through a tunnel. Camphor tree does not rot easily and has a great strength for insects that destroys trees so it is perfect for this great sacred gateway. Local people live in Miyajima plants camphor trees hoping that local trees will be used for Ootorii next time it needs to be reconstruct.
Most of the People who see this Ootorii would think that its base is buried deep deep under the bottom of the ocean. However, surprisingly it stands only by its own weight! Then why it doesn't collapse, move, or fall down and survives from hurricanes and earthquakes? There some secrets. The first secret is in its “Shimagi”, a horizontal pillar in upper part of Ootorii, is made in a “box” shape and it is filled with seven thousands kilograms of fist size stones to make it as a weight for entire Ootorii. The second secret is in its design and construction. Including main and sub pillars, there are totals of six of them to keep its stability very high, and also very unique shaped wedges are drove in where its pillars and roof are connected together to make it naturally absorb any strain of deformation of pillars and roof. The third secret is in its base under water. The bottom of the ocean is strengthen by driving pine stakes and lay the foundation stones over it to build the base. It is an amazing ancient wisdom that this complicated and well-planned system has done several hundreds years ago.
In December of 1996, Itsukushima Jinja is officially registered as one of the World Heritage Site. It was rated very high with the facts that Itsukushima Jinja is an outstanding architecture transmitting Japanese unique culture to prosperity, and also the whole island is a cultural scenic place. The area that registered as the World Heritage Site include all the buildings of Itsukushima Jinja and its ocean in front and untouched wild forest of Misen Mountain in the back of the shrine. It sums up to four hundred thirty two hectare which is about fourteen percent of entire Itsukushima Island. Itsukushima Jinja creates very unique scenery under the one and only concept that the group of bright red shrine buildings including main building and Ootorii, were developed on the ocean with deep green covered Misen Mountain and other mountains in the background.
[How to get there]
10 mins from JR Miyajimaguchi Station by ferry
Our WiFi is available in this area.
Mar. 8th, 2015