Itsukushima Island (or Miyajima) is considered sacred and pure in the Shinto religion. The strict rules applied to the island to maintain its purity throughout history have also preserved its wealth of native plants and animals. Miyajima's Itsukushima Shinto Shrine which was built to worship the island is know worldwide for their beauty. The view of the shrine with its vermillion gate in front and Mt. Misen towering behind is considered one of Japan's three best views. It is the most photographed spot in Hiroshima Prefecture.
The rules of Itsukushima
The island has been considered by Shintoists as holy since before recorded time. For most of that time, it was considered too holy for commoners to even step upon for fear they would defile the island. Obviously, the situation has changed a bit as hordes of day tripping tourists descend on Itsukushima everyday. The rules gradually relaxed over time. Commoners, old people and women are no longer banned from the island.
Visitors to Itsukushima Island are asked to respect the following simple rules:
Miyajima is officially only the town's name (Itsukushima-cho until Nov. 3, 1950) but the name is often applied to the island itself. The town is home to just 2,018 people (2003) and is the only village on the island. Strict building rules maintain a Edo-era look to all buildings. Since dying and giving birth on the island is not permitted the town has no maternity ward and no graveyard.
The shrine was first established in 593 and was built by Saeki Kuramoto. Built to worship the island as a goddess, the temple quickly became known through out Japan. Its first known written record from 881 includes it among other famous Japanese shrines. The precursor to the current Itsukushima Shrine and its gate were built in 1168 with funds from the governor of Aki Province, Kiyomori Taira, and his clan. Changes to the shrine's layout occurred after fires in 1207, 1223 and a typhoon in 1325. After this time, the shrine is thought to have retained the same basic layout but its influence waned and it fell into ruin. In 1555, the battle of Itsukushima occurred and the victorious Mori Motonari set out to restore the shrine to its former glory and did so in 1571. The current gate was built in 1875.
Building the shrine on piers in the harbor allowed commoners to approach through the gates and worship close to the sacred island without actually setting foot on it. At high tide, water rises almost to the shrine's deck and it appears to float on the water. When the tide is out, it looks more like it's about to drop into the mud. For the best experience and photos, be sure to check when high tide occurs so you can arrive during high tide.
Itsukushima Shrine and the surrounding forest of Mt. Misen was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site on December 7, 1996.
Marine Plaza Miyajima - Aquarium
The Marine Plaza Miyajima has around 13,000 sea animals (350 different species) which makes it one of the largest in western Japan. The flip side is that it's a bit expensive at 1050 Yen for what is a small sized aquarium.
Mt. Misen is located behind Miyajima and it rises majestically from the shrine at sea level to 529.8 meters. Its interesting geology, virgin forests and unique wildlife make it popular hiking destination. You can also cheat and take the rope way to a peak near the summit from the town. There is a fairly decent restaurant at the rope way station where you can enjoy a meal while looking out at the Seto Inland Sea. It takes about 15 minutes to hike from the rope way station and over 90 minutes to hike from the town to the summit of Mount Misen.
To learn more about Mt. Misen look at Mt. Misen (Itsukushima Island).
Accommodation and Food
Accommodation and food on Miyajima are universally expensive. In particular, avoid the vending machines closest to the Mt. Misen train heads as the prices are inflated. If you stay on the island overnight can enjoy the sights without the crowds of people. But, depending on your disposition, the premium charged may not be worth it. The island can easily be toured in 4 hours and explored fully in a day. Those on a budget can stay in Miyajimaguchi off the island.
Annual Festivals and Events
There is a regular ferry service from Miyajimaguchi and from Hiroshima's Ujina Port. The JR service from Miyajimaguchi (340 Yen return) takes under 15 minutes to get there and there are several sailings an hour during peak daytime hours. You can reach Miyajimaguchi by train on the JR Line and the Amstram Line. Direct sailings from Ujina Port cost over 1,000 Yen.
Submitted by mbystedt on Fri, 04/08/2011 - 18:40