Itsukushima: Shrine Island and the Famous Floating Gate

February 27, 2017

Off the northwest coast of Hiroshima, there is an island famed for its beauty and mystery. Itsukushima is a rural mountainous place, far from the bustle and crowds of central cities. However, this does not mean it is forgotten. Quite the contrary, it is actually a great spot for locals and tourists alike.

Shrine Island

Itsukushima Shrine features buildings that seem to float on water

Source: Rosino via Flickr

Itsukushima is commonly referred to by its other name, Miyajima, or Shrine Island. As you can guess, the island is sacred and home to many shrines and temples, including the famous World Heritage Site Itsukushima Shrine. It is the site of the famous floating torii gate that mystifies people all over the world. The current gate dates back to the 16th century. The shrine was built in recognition of Shinto goddesses that the warlord Kiyomori believed blessed his life. As expected, he treated the site generously and turned it into a great treasure. There are also 32 scrolls written by Kiyomori at the location.

Undoubtedly, one of the greatest draws of the shrine is its magical atmosphere. The buildings are built on piers so they rest gracefully on the water. The main highlight is the tall gate that stands alone, seeming to have risen out of the water. It is classified as one of the Three Views of Japan, which celebrates the most famous sights. There is a path that runs to the gate, though it is obscured during high tide. Popular activities are gathering shellfish and of course taking photographs. At night, brilliant lights illuminate the gate.

Daiganji Temple

Right next door is the famous Daiganji Temple, built during the 6th century. It is home to the goddess Benzaiten and three Buddhas. The highly respected temple is only open once a year on June 17. Many look forward to this date all year long, eager to join in the large festivities and offer their prayers.

The Holy Mountain

Daisho-in is the oldest temple on the island

Source: Dai Fujihara via Flickr

Also located on Itsukushima is Mount Misen, the holy mountain. Many ancient buildings sit at the foot, while beautiful forests cover the top. The largest and oldest temple complex is Daisho-in, popular for pilgrimages as well as autumn sightseeing. There is believed to be a flame within the temple that has been burning since its inception 1200 years ago.

History Up-close

The island is rife with history, and the buildings are a boon to architecture enthusiasts. The largest structure, Senjokaku, is a pavilion that started out as a Buddhist library. It was later converted into a shrine, and many visitors travel there to view the numerous tablets housed inside. There is also an imposing pagoda dedicated to the Buddha of Medicine. Built in the 15th century, the structure is believed to be the creation of the famous Japanese monk Kukai.

With so many temples and shrines, there is plenty for visitors to do at this sacred place. The buildings are a must for those making long pilgrimages, people who want to offer simple prayers, or those who simply wish to marvel at the ancient architecture. The island itself is calm and scenic, with more mountains and forests than buildings, with even a botanical garden on the coast. In fact, there are no traffic signals at all. The residents love the natural beauty and work hard to preserve it, making it the perfect destination for those who want to enjoy quality nature.

Beautiful Scenery and Sacred Deer

Autumn is a wonderful time to visit, as the landscape transforms into a fiery storm of color. The maple trees are famous throughout the country, and many seasonal treats are available. Since the land is sacred, the trees are protected from the lumber trade. Adding to the picturesque quality are the islands other residents. Deer and monkey roam freely, accustomed to the large human presence. In Shinto belief, deer are messengers of the gods and they enjoy great status, especially on Itsukushima.

Unfortunately, their popularity has been a double-edged sword, as they are now so used to being fed they are unable to fend for themselves. In an attempt to return them to their natural way of life, officials and locals discourage feeding the animals. This has sometimes led to deer boldly rushing tourists and biting on clothes or bags.

Nevertheless, Shrine Island is a destination that belongs on anyone’s travel list. Catering to a number of interests, it is perfect during all seasons, and the treasures it has are sure to astound. Don’t miss out on your chance to see the floating gate or mingle with sacred deer!

The post Itsukushima: Shrine Island and the Famous Floating Gate appeared first on YUNOMI.

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