Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima, Honshu, Japan

Lanterns at Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima, Honshu, Japan

Itsukushima Shrine (Japanese: Itsukushima Jinja) is a Shinto shrine on the island of Itsukushima (popularly known as “Miyajima”, which means “shrine-island” in Japanese) in the city of Hatsukaichi in Hiroshima Prefecture in Japan. This Shinto shrine is known worldwide for its “floating torii gate“.

Itsukushima Shrine, Goju-no-to (Five-Storied Pagoda) and Senjokaku (One Thousand Tatami Hall), Miyajima, Honshu, Japan

The shrine and its torii gate are seemingly floating in the sea during high tide. The shrine is located in a small inlet, while the torii gate is set out in the Seto Inland Sea. The shrine’s construction is unique and consisting of pier-like structures built over the bay, is due to the holy status that the island once commanded. Commoners were historically not allowed to set foot on the island, and had to approach by boat, entering through the gate that appears to float.

Taka-Butai (High Stage), Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima, Honshu, Japan

The first Itsukushima Shrine buildings were probably erected in the 6th century, but the present shrine dates from the 12th century. In accordance with Shinto practice, the Principal Shrine consists of a number of separate halls. Nearest the shore is the Honden (Main Hall), and beyond this, built out into the bay, are the Offerings Hall (Heiden), the Prayer Hall (Haiden), the hall for ceremonies of purification (Haraiden) and at the far end, the stage (Takabutai) for cult dances (Bugaku, Kagura) flanked by two music pavilions. The dances (usually masked) are performed at the great festivals, in return for offerings to the shrine, and also on other occasions.

Paper Lanterns Hang Over an Osaisen Bako Offering Box, Main Worship Hall, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima, Honshu, Japan

One reason for the shrine’s unusual construction may have been that the island was considered so sacred that Itsukushima’s designers were reluctant to build on the soil itself and placed as much of the shrine as possible, including the O-torii gate, in or over the water.

A Woman in a Long Corridor at Itsukushima Shrine, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima, Honshu, Japan

Retaining the ritual purity of the shrine is so important that since 1878, neither births nor deaths were permitted at the shrine. To this day, burials on the island are still forbidden.

Ema, Prayer Tablets, at Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima, Honshu, Japan

The best time to photograph O-torii gate and Itsukushima Shrine is high tide so check tides before coming to the island. Also the best time of the day to photograph O-torii gate is sunset when they are highlighted with lamps and sunrise.

More images from Gallery of Miyajima Stock ImagesJapan Stock Photography.

Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社), Miyajima 宮島, Honshu 本州, Japan 日本国

Ilya Genkin is a Sydney, Australia photographer whose subjects include the Pacific coast, Australian outback and deserts, rainforests, lakes and rivers, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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