The grand torii of the Itsukushima Shrine is one of the many reasons that Hiroshima’s Miyajima Island is considered one of the top tourist attractions of Japan (in my opinion, even maybe the top attraction). At high tide the torii sits seemingly in the middle of the ocean but on low tide the water recedes and you can easily walk right up to it.
This torii was designed not to be anchored to the ground, it actually remains in place just by its own weight which makes it more or less earth quake proof. During high tide many tourist boats pass through ut and I as is customary people like to offer money to the gate. At low tide the money becomes visible in droves underneath the gate, in some places it piles up in droves. Still, to pick anything up or remove any of the money would be big no-no, so most people leave it alone where it is.
It was raining during most of my visit and together with this being a weekday afternoon meant that there were quite few other tourists during my visit. I even managed to meet one of the many wild deer out for a stroll later in the afternoon after the school kids and tourists had left.
The shrine on Isukushima Island, or Miyajima, is built into the flat tidal bay of the Setonaikai, a small sea surrounded by the main islands of Japan. In the old days the it was forbidden for commoners to set foot on the holy island so the shrine was built into the bay to make it possible for ordinary people to pay their respects. Although the building has been rebuilt many times, the original shrine dates back to the 6th century, making it one of the oldest in Japan.
During high tide the shrine sits in the middle of the water, a very beautiful effect. Unfortunately I visited during the rainy season so it was raining for most of the day and by the time I arrived low tide was in effect and most of the water had already run out. Still, it is good to see something different from what every photo in every tourist book tells you!
Shinto places great importance on purity, and since the island of Itsukushima is one the holiest places births and deaths and blood were not allowed on the island traditionally. These days of course, customs have changed though. Anyone who died on the island would be taken over to the mainland with their immediate family for funeral rites and there are still no cemeteries or graves on the island. Pregnant women were also expected to leave the island before giving birth and although not a rule anymore it is still considered prudent as there are no official maternity wards or hospitals on the island and the daytime only ferry access can be canceled in times of bad weather.
Walking around on the shrine which covers quite a lot of ground but is surprisingly small is a fantastic experience and I would easily rate this shrine as one of the premier places to visit for anyone touristing in Japan. This was also one of the places visited by Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio on their honey moon trip to Japan. As much as I have searched though, I can’t find any official dates or photos, but it must have happened on the afternoon of February 12th, 1954. Any fans who knows more out there?
More photos and posts to come!
About 23km from the city of Hiroshima lies one of the most beautiful spots in Japan, Itsukushima island, or as it is known in everday life, Miyajima (the island with the shrine). It is considered one of the three scenic views of Japan and is also on the UNESCO world heritage list of sacred places.
In the old days the island was considered to be so holy that laymen and ordinary people were not allowed to set foot on it, it was exclusively reserved for priests and nuns. To allow visitors to the local shrine to properly worship there, a torii, a shrine gate was constructed in the 12th century and placed in the middle of the bay. In those days visitors would be rowed over in long narrow boats but these days commoners are allowed on the island so almost everyone approach it on foot.
The present gate was made in the 19th century by using water resistant camphor trees and is about 16 meters tall. It is really much larger than you can tell from these photos which were taken at quite a distance. Remarkably enough no saltwater nor waves nor typhoons has managed to topple the gate which is actually not anchored to the ground, it is really just plonked on the sand and is kept in place by its own weight! The pier and ocean side walk leading up to the shrine is lined with stone lanterns and the many tourists are kept an eye on by the local population of wild deer, which are protected on this holy island.
I will blog more about the wonderful Itsukushima shrine and the island itself tomorrow and the coming week.
The festival at the Senzoku Inari Shrine in the northern parts of Tokyo’s Asakusa district was a first for me, a very small festival which was unusually completely without much of what you expect from a traditional festival, the market stands, the food, the drinks. I didn’t see any of that at this festival. I arrived just as the omikoshi and procession was nearing the end of their journey, right in front of the shrine. I was probably the only non-local there to watch! The last weekend of May is full of events all over Tokyo, so there is a rather stiff competition to gather visitors for any of them.
The Senzoku district is quite small, and only parts of it were traditionally residential. In the old days half of what is now Senzoku was part of the famous Yoshiwara red light district, which has long since disappeared. After the war the place was the home of many ethnic Koreans and had a rather lively Korean market, but for the last 50-60 years it has been a very typical downtown Tokyo neighborhood.
The shrine itself is most famous for being the setting of the famous novel Takekurabe, written by Higuchi Ichuyo in 1895-1896, about local children growing up on the edge of the Yoshiwara red light district. In the novel, the children play in and around the shrine and a few years ago a bust in the honor of Higuchi was unveiled on the shrine grounds. You might recognize her as the face of the 5000 yen note, only the third woman to be featured on a Japanese bank note.