Itsukushima Shrine is the main shrine in the small island of Miyajima which is located right across from Hiroshima, Japan. It is an UNESCO Heritage Site and really important to the island. In fact, Miyajima is literally named “The Shrine’s Island”.
Itsukushima shrine is an important Shinto landmark with a recorded history from 811 AD. It requires constant maintenance against sea water rotting and typhoons.
As architecture goes, Itsukushima Shrine is also painted in the traditional Vermillion red that is seen across shrines and temples in Japan and built of wood.
A unique aspect of Itsukushima is that it is built on marshland, which means that during high tide, the sea water surrounds it and the shrine floats over it.
When I visited it, the tide was low enough to dry up the soil around the shrine, making it possible for visitors to visit the huge Torii that faces the shrine that is usually partially submerged by sea water.
Several times a year, important buddhist ceremonies take place at this shrine.
The best times to visit Itsukushima shrine are sunrise and sunset.
At sunrise, the shrine is empty and monks roam the shrine making offerings and performing their morning prayers. This makes the whole place quite serene. You might even meet a monk playing an instrument while charging the entrance fee.
Sunset is probably the most beautiful time to watch the Torii gate and to commune with the deer that freely roam the island.
And at night the shrine is closed, but you can still see the Torii, which is illuminated.
Deer of Miyajima
Most travelers only visit Miyajima because its proximity to Hiroshima, but the island is full of surprises. From quiet streets and eccentric encounters to beautiful nature, I wish I had allocated more time to exploring Miyajima.
One of the surprises I loved was the free-ranging deer that wander around between people and cars like they have always co-existed.
Some are skittish, but most will approach if you have food. Others will “stalk” you to the ferry (like this one did to me). So really, they are just like people! lol
I am not sure about the legality of feeding them, but I saw many tourists doing so. If you plan on visiting the island, one thing that you should know is that the deer are considered sacred, so use good judgement when interacting with them.
Ah! And if you are wondering if the whole island is covered in deer droppings, you won’t see many. As with everywhere in Japan, the island is immaculately clean! Everyday, multiple times a day, the streets are swept clean.
If you are heading South in Japan, stop by Miyajima and stay for two or three nights. There are a couple hikes available and the island has a real laid back vibe.
The Japanese visit the island, stay in Ryokans and walk around town in their Yukatas in the summer, so join in and have fun!