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Miyajima

Itsukushima is an island in the Inland Sea of Japan. It is popularly known as Miyajima, the Shrine Island.

 

Miyajima is a small island in the western part of the Inland Sea of Japan, located in the northwest of Hiroshima Bay, less than an hour outside the city of Hiroshima. Miyajima is most famous for its giant torii gate, which at high tide seems to float on top of the water. The sight is ranked as one of Japan's three best views (together with Amanohashidate and Matsuhima). While officially named Itsukushima, the island is more commonly referred to as Miyajima, Japanese for "shrine-island".

Miyajima's best known symbol – the floating torii (gate) of Itsukushima Shrine, stands in the bay 200m in front of the shrine. The current gate, dating back to 1875, is built of camphor wood, is about 16 metres high and was built in a four-legged style, that is four additional legs as well as the primary columns, to provide additional stability. The gate appears to be floating at high tide. When the tide is low the gate is surrounded by mud and can be accessed by foot from the island. It has been reconstructed 17 times since it was built in 6th century, last in 1875. The magical atmosphere of Miyajima is best captured at dusk when the tide rises and the stone lanterns flicker. The sight is ranked as one of Japan’s three best views.

Miyajima is well-known as a sacred island wherein people and gods dwell together harmoniously. Since ancient times, the people living there worshipped the island itself as a god. Like any old folk tale, this belief was passed down from generation to generation until today. In the past, women were not allowed on the island and old people were shipped elsewhere to die, so that the ritual purity of the site would not be spoiled. Miyajima is considered to be one of the three most scenic places in Japan, but to my mind, Miyajima is the best place for a photographer.

Itsukushima Shrine (Japanese: Itsukushima Jinja) is a Shinto shrine on the island of Itsukushima in the city of Hatsukaichi in Hiroshima Prefecture in Japan. This Shinto shrine is known worldwide for its "floating torii gate". 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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

Deer is a symbol of Miyajima and you can see them elegantly wondering around the island everywhere. It is believed that there lived deer around 6000 years ago when the Miyajima Island was formed. Deer is believed to be a messenger of the gods in Shinto (Japanese native religion). Therefore, they are treated very well by the locals and are not scared with human. Be careful as deer harassing tourists for food. In the past, waffle-like wafers and pellets could be bought to feed them. However, a feeding ban is now in place, which has led to declining numbers – and increased boldness among the remaining deer, who are willing to root in around bags or backpacks for food (even while said bags are being worn). They literally can steal and eat almost anything they can reach – your lose cloths, plastic bags, camera straps, tickets, maps and passport. Miyajima deer are harmless, but sometimes very annoying. Especially when you are having lunch.

Daisho-in Temple (or Daisyo-in Temple) is an ancient one of the most important temples of Shingon Buddhism built at the foot of the sacred Mount Misen. It is the 14th of Chugoku 33 Kannon Pilgrimage and famous for autumn leaves and maples. It has another temple name called "Suisho-ji". Including Mt.Misen, Daisho-in is within the World Heritage Area of Itsukushima Shrine. During the time of fusion period of Shintoism and Buddhism, this distinguished temple governed all priests in Miyajima and was in charge of religious ceremonies of Itsukushima Shrine. Daisho-in features a variety of buildings, statues and other religious objects for visitors to admire. These include the Kannon-do Hall, the Maniden Hall, a sand mandala made by visiting monks from Tibet, a tea room and a cave filled with 88 icons representing the temples of the Shikoku Pilgrimage. In this temple there is a flame is which has been burning since its foundation, for more than 1200 years.

Built by the priest Shukan in 1523, Tahoto is a pagoda with a height of 15.6 meters. Although constructed mainly in Japanese style, parts of the structure have Indian and Chinese architectural features. It presents the unique combination of a square shape on the lower level and a round shape on the upper level. During cherry blossom seasons, it shows a breath-taking scenery under spot lights.

Senjokaku - the name means "1000 Mat Pavilion", a fairly apt description of this gigantic wooden hall which doesn't actually contain much other than empty space. It was originally built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1587, but left incomplete after his death. There's also a picturesque 5-story pagoda (Goju-no-to) next door, and plenty of cherry trees if you are visiting in sakura season.

Goju-no-to is a vermilion red Five-Storied Pagoda built in 1407AD shows a splendid structural beauty which skilfully combines the beauty of Japanese and Chinese architectural styles. Goju-no-to is 27.6 metres high. Goju-no-to is located next to Senjokaku Shrine.