What’s Itsukushima Shrine?

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Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Japan, is known for its iconic red gate that appears to float on water. The shrine was built on the holy island of Itsukushima, and the present sanctuary was constructed in the 12th century. The island was once forbidden to commoners, but now offers hiking trails and natural beauty. The shrine is accessible from Hiroshima by streetcar and ferry.

Itsukushima Shrine is a Shinto shrine in Japan. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1996. Itsukushima Shrine is perhaps best known for its iconic red gate, which appears to float on water, and is one of Japan’s classic sights.
Itsukushima Shrine is built on the island of Itsukushima, also known as Miyajima. The island has been a holy site in the Shinto faith for centuries, and the first shrine is believed to have been built there in the 6th century. This original shrine was built for the goddess of the ocean, the daughter of the goddess who created Japan itself.

The shrine soon became the favorite shrine of a powerful family, the Taira. To protect the island, and to increase the prestige of the sanctuary, they forbade anyone to settle, give birth or die. In time, commoners were forbidden to even set foot on the island.

The present shrine was built in the second half of the 12th century, when Taira no Kiyomori, a powerful warlord of the same clan who originally took an interest in the island, donated funds for its construction. The modern sanctuary is built on piers that extend out over the bay, so that people could visit without violating the ban on touching land.

At low tide, Itsukushima Shrine isn’t particularly striking. It appears to be a series of beautiful buildings built on wooden stilts and surrounded by grey-brown mud. When the tide rises, however, the whole view changes dramatically. The water covers the pylons and the entire Itsukushima Shrine seems to magically float on the water.

The gate of Itsukushima Shrine is perhaps more famous than the shrine itself. The first gate was built when the 12th century sanctuary was built, but its current incarnation only dates back to the 12th. The large floating stage is also popular for dances and ceremonies. Itsukushima Shrine is also a very popular venue for traditional Japanese weddings and lucky visitors may find themselves able to witness one of these splendid events.

Behind Itsukushima Shrine, the island itself is a wonderful attraction. With the ban on visiting ordinary people lifted, its natural beauty is available for all to see. And while the shrine itself is sometimes crowded with visitors, the many hiking trails that criss-cross the island are usually pretty empty. The island offers incredible views, wonderful flora and fauna and a nice opportunity to relax while waiting for the tide to come.
Itsukushima Shrine is also relatively accessible. It is close to Hiroshima, so visitors to that city will find it a must-see destination. A streetcar connects Hiroshima to the lakeshore, and ferries regularly cross the canal to Miyajima.

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