Itsukushima Shrine

Itsukushima Shrine
Itsukushima Shinto Shrine *
UNESCO World Heritage Site
The torii of Itsukushima Shrine, the site's most recognizable landmark, appears to float in the water.
Country Japan
Type Cultural
Criteria i, ii, iv, vi
Reference 776
Region ** Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 1996 (20th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List
** Region as classified by UNESCO

Itsukushima Shrine (Japanese: 厳島神社 Itsukushima-jinja) is a Shinto shrine on the island of Itsukushima (popularly known as Miyajima) in the city of Hatsukaichi in Hiroshima Prefecture in Japan. The shrine complex is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Japanese government has designated several buildings and possessions as National Treasures.


Religious significance

The shrine is dedicated to the three daughters of Susano-o no Mikoto, Shinto deity of seas and storms and brother of the great sun deity, Amaterasu (tutelary deity of the Imperial Household). Because the island itself has been considered sacred, in order to maintain its purity commoners were not allowed to set foot on Miyajima through much of its history. In order to allow pilgrims to approach, the shrine was built like a pier over the water, so that it appeared to float, separate from the land, and therefore existed in a liminal state between the sacred and the profane.[1] The shrine's signature red entrance gate, or torii, was built over the water for much the same reason. Commoners had to steer their boats through the torii before approaching the shrine.

Retaining the purity of the shrine is so important that since 1878, no deaths or births have been permitted near the shrine.[2] To this day, pregnant women are supposed to retreat to the mainland as the day of delivery approaches, as are terminally ill or the very elderly whose passing has become imminent. Burials on the island are still forbidden.

Design history

The first shrine buildings were probably erected in the 6th century, and the shrine has been destroyed many times. The present shrine dates from the mid-16th century, and follows the earlier 12th century design.[3] That design was established in 1168, when funds were provided by the warlord Taira no Kiyomori. The shrine was designed and built on pier-like structures over the bay so that it would appear to be floating on the water, separate from the sacred island, which could be approached by the devout. Near the main shrine is a noh stage, funded by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late 16th century. Noh theater performances have long been used to pay honor to the gods, and ritually act out key events in the mythic history of Shinto belief.

The dramatic gate, or torii, of Itsukushima Shrine is one of Japan's most popular tourist attractions, and the most recognizable and celebrated feature of the Itsukushima shrine,[4] and the view of the gate in front of the island's Mount Misen is classified as one of the Three Views of Japan (along with the sand bar Amanohashidate, and Matsushima Bay). Although a gate has been in place since 1168, the current gate dates back to 1875. The gate, built of decay-resistant camphor wood, is about 16 metres high and was built in a four-legged style to provide additional stability.

The torii only appears to be floating at high tide; when the tide is low, it is approachable by foot from the island. It is common practice for visitors to place coins in the cracks of the legs of the gate and make a wish. Gathering shellfish near the gate is also popular at low tide. Many locals add the shellfish they gather to their miso soup. At night, powerful lights on the shore illuminate the torii.

On September 5, 2004, the shrine was severely damaged by Typhoon Songda. The boardwalks and roof were partially destroyed, and the shrine was temporarily closed for repairs.

View from the torii

See also



  1. ^ Turner, Victor W. (1969). The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-structure. Chicago: Aldine Pub.. 
  2. ^ "Itsukushima". Japanese Lifestyle. 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2011. 
  3. ^ Mason, Penelope (2004), Itsukushima Shinto Shrine "UNESCO's World Heritage Site", in Dimwiddle, Donald, History of Japanese Art (2nd ed.), Itsukushima Shinto Shrine 
  4. ^ "Japan Sightseeing Guide". - Japan Travel and Living Guide. Retrieved 2009-01-17. 

External links

Coordinates: 34°17′45″N 132°19′11″E / 34.29583°N 132.31972°E / 34.29583; 132.31972

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