Itsukushima Shrine

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Appearing as if floating on the Seto Inland Sea at high tide, the awe-inspiring O-Torii(otherwise known as The Grand Torii Gate) is the iconic trademark that first welcomes day-tripping pilgrims from Hiroshimato the sacred island of Miyajima. It’s one of the country’s most iconic sights – you’ll definitely know it if you’ve ever googled “Japan images” – and the whole complex of suspended red buildings is even more captivating in real life.

The shrine is made up of several buildings, built above the sea and connected by wooden boardwalks.

Regarded as one of the three most scenic spots in Japan, Miyajima, whose name literally stands for Shrine Island, is synonymous with Itsukushima Shrine – so much so that the names are basically interchangeable, and often confused by visitors. Say either/or and people will know what you mean.

First founded in 593 A.D., the vermillion coated shrine pavilion was later enlarged to its current dimensions in 1168 under Taira no Kiyomoro, a powerful warlord in the late Heian Period. All credit for the grandeur of Itsukushima goes to this legendary figure who commissioned the gate to be constructed in an architectural style catering to aristocratic estates, known as shinden-zukuri.

The regional shrine rose to national prominence in the Heian Period as members of the Imperial Court began worshipping the deities believed to reside at this sacred site. There are rare performances of the ancient art of bugaku(classical court dance and music) that were once enjoyed by the royals on their visits way back when.

If you’re lucky you might catch a traditionalbugakuperformance at the shrine, usually held during commemorative events and festivals like New Years or the Emperor’s birthday.

Another interesting feature is a Noh theater stage dating from 1509. As in Ancient Greek plays, the stories enacted on stage draw inspiration from creation myths and religion. Featuring the natural backdrop of the sea, the stage is the perfect performance setting for an island where gods dwell.

Itsukushima Shrine is one of Japan’s many World Heritage Sites. Check out our list of all these highly-revered locales for the ultimate travel itinerary!