Itsukushima: The Shrine in the Sea
You have probably heard of a Castle in the Sky, but what about a Shrine in the Sea?
Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社) is located off the coast of Hatsukaichi City (廿日市市) in Hiroshima Prefecture (広島県), on the island of Miyajima (宮島). The O-torii Gate (大鳥居) 200 meters out from the shrine is 16.6-meters high, weighs about 60-tons, and has six camphor wood pillars.
In the old days, Miyajima was accessible only by the highly religious. Today, JR and local ferries carry crowds of tourists from all lifestyles and nationalities to see what was designated in 2006 as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also ranked among the top 3 views in Japan (the other two being Amanohashidate and Matsushima Bay).
If you approach the island at high tide, both the shrine and its gate appear to be floating on the waves! During low tide, you can disembark and reach the Great Gate on foot. Either way, it is a stunning sight.
Itskushima Shrine has stood for many centuries, but the current design was paid for by Heian Period military leader and devout Buddhist, Taira no Kiyomori (1118-1181) in 1168. His statue can be seen as you step onto the island.
Taira no Kiyomori
Its open design facilitates the rising and falling of the tide and gives a breezy atmosphere. There are no walls or doors, and the floorboards are laid with space between them. Nonetheless, it was badly damaged in 2004 and underwent repairs.
In addition to Noh plays, the ancient court dance, bugaku continues to be performed. (See below for 2017 dates)
While you are on Miyajima, there is plenty else to do besides seeing Itsukushima Shrine. The island is also home to two five-story pagodas, as well as the Daishoin Temple, where many valuable Buddhist statue sutras are kept. If you take the the Miyajima Ropeway up to the Shishiiwa Observatory, you get a spectacular view of the many small islands in the Seto Inland Sea. The Ropeway employs two systems circular, and funicular, and when you reach Shishiiwa Station be careful not to lose your hat! Another 20 minute hike will take you to the summit 535 meters above sea.
For a taste of local specialties, try the Omotesando Shopping Arcade, where you'll find plenty of shaved ice (great for a hot day), momiji manjyu (sweet red bean-filled cake), and Hiroshima's famous oysters.
Melt-in-your mouth delicious! Apparently, former US President Ronald Regan ate here once
If you're hunting for souvenirs, look no further–they have everything from postcards to chopsticks to deer figurines to I'm-a-millionaire sensu fans, and...you may wonder what's with all the rice scoops for sale? You'll find that Miyajima is famous not only for its Great Gate but also for its Great Rice Scoop, displayed at the end of Omotesando Shopping Arcade! It is 7.7 meters long and weighs 2.5 tons!
As you leave, make sure to take a second look at the shrine in the sea–depending on the tide, it will be sunken in waves, or stand proudly on the dry sand, as if to say to you "See you next time!"
From Hiroshima Station you can take the JR Sanyo Line to Miyajimaguchi Station. From there you can hop on the ferry (either JR or local, but local is slightly cheaper).
FEES: (Itsukushima Shrine ¥300), (JR Ferry Round-trip ¥360; Miyajima Matsudai Kisen Tourist Ship Company ¥300), (Ropeway Round-Trip ¥1,800; ~1.5 hour trip)
FOOD: oyster, conger eel, okonomiyaki, momiji manjyu
Bugaku Dates 2017: October 15 "Kikkasei;" December 23 "Tenchōsai"
*Disclaimer: Miyajima is crowded even during low season, so be prepared for crowding at special events.