Considered the home of the goddesses of the sea, Miyajima has been treated as a sacred site since ancient times. The island is widely known for its gigantic torii that seem to rise from the seabed, as well as a grand shrine floating over the waves. In both cases, human craftsmanship has been skillfully integrated with the sea, reflecting harmony between Mother Nature and the human.
Nestled in the Seto Inland Sea, 14 kilometers southwest of the city of Hiroshima, the small island of Miyajima (宮島) is a holy place of Shintoism. Officially known as Itsukushima, the island is more commonly referred to as “Miyajima”, literally “shrine island” in Japanese, thanks to its primary attraction, the centuries-old Itsukushima Shrine.
Since ancient times, the Japanese have sensed the spiritual sanctity of the island. Thus, they worshipped it as a divine being – so much so that commoners were forbidden from visiting. Even the prominent Itsukushima Shrine had to be built floating next to the land, and not on it. Today, people can reside on the island but no one is allowed to give birth or die there.
1. Itsukushima Shrine
Constructed in 593 and later enlarged to its present size in 1168, Itsukushima Shrine is dedicated to the three Shinto sea goddesses: Ichikishima, Tagori, and Tagitsu. It is an outstanding example of sacred architecture in Japan, in which human elements are perfectly harmonized with nature.
The shrine consists of multiple buildings, including the main hall, several subsidiary temples, and a Noh theater stage. They are interconnected by numerous bridges and boardwalks and supported by pillars above the sea. However, not a single metal nail was used in the construction of the shrine. Vermillion lacquer is also applied to keep evil spirits away and protect the building from corrosion.
2. The Great Torii
Standing in front of Itsukushima Shrine is the Great Torii – Miyajima’s most recognizable symbol. First erected in 1168, the 16-meter tall vermillion gate marks the boundary between the spirit and human worlds. It stands on six pillars, with both main pillars are made from single trees, making the gate highly resistant to harsh weather. Additionally, the base of the torii is not buried deep in the seabed but rather stands by its own weight. Therefore, a typhoon or even an earthquake can hardly make the gate fall or move.
The current Great Torri was built in 1875 and is the eighth to occupy this site. During high tide, it appears like floating on the waves – a scene that has been traditionally ranked as one of the three most beautiful views in Japan. The torii looks even more photogenic at dusk when the sun seemingly descends through the holy gate.
3. The Deer of Miyajima
The island of Miyajima is also home to more than a thousand wild deer. They wander around the same sites as tourists and sleep on the walking path at night. According to local lore, they are the messengers of the goddesses, and killing one was punishable by death until 1637.
Today, the deer is still protected by Japanese law, however, the punishment was less severe. Normally, these animals run away when seeing people. But the deers of Miyajima have become accustomed to humans. They don’t mind if you pet or feed them.
Tips for visiting Miyajima
- Miyajima is easily accessible by train from Hiroshima. Take the JR train from Hiroshima station to Miyajimaguchi Station (25 minutes, 410¥ one way), then walk to the ferry pier where ferries depart frequently to Miyajima (10 minutes, 180¥ one way). The whole trip takes less than one hour and is covered by JR Pass.
- Check the tide table before visiting Miyajima. Though the torii and the shrine look most impressive during high tide, you can even walk to the gate at low tide.
- Keep your belongings in your bag, especially important papers. Don’t hold them in your hand or hang them on your bag, because the deer might snatch and eat your stuff.
21 thoughts on “Miyajima: On the Island of the Sea Goddesses”
Wonderful place. I really need to visit Japan, I’ve been dreaming of it for years! Miyajima is definitely on the list. Thank you for sharing all those pictures, they’re amazing!
My pleasure! 🙂
Such beautiful photos as usual 🙂 The shot of the sunset through the Great Torii is marvellous.
It’s truly amazing! Definitely worth waiting 🙂 The temple itself is also beautiful. I wish I could see it floating over water.
You waited for the shot, is it? Now that’s dedication for the cause. I am glad we reaped the rewards too.
Many thanks! 🙂
Amazing photos, Len! Itsukushima Shrine’s vermilion corridor looks very welcoming and photogenic at the same time, and the Great Torii so majestic. My favorite shot is the one with the sun shining through that grand gate that separates our world with that of the spirit. Looks like the weather was perfect when you were there, and judging from your photos it seems that during your visit there were not too many tourists.
Actually, there was a huge crowd viewing the sunset. But most of them gathered directly in front of the gate 🙂 I know that I cannot compete with them, so I stopped somewhere near the temple’s entrance.
The island is at most busiest at noon, but after the ceremonial dance the crowd get significantly thinner.
This is the first time I am hearing about Miyajima and it definitely seems worth visiting, Len! That sunset view is breathtaking and I would love to enjoy it one day. How many days would you recommend staying there?
Personally, I think one day would be enough to see all the main attractions on Miyajima. You can stay in Hiroshima, and make a day trip to the island as it takes less than one hour 🙂
Wow. That’s really beautiful. Nice post!
Many thanks! 🙂
Great photos but I truly appreciate the thought that went into the sunset photos.
Many thanks! 🙂
Every place in Japan, I fell that is surrounded by some sort of mystery and sacred vibe and somehow peaceful feelings. This looks such a relaxing place to meditate and relax.
Japan is so high on my travel list and I hope to make this trip happen soon enough.
Thank you, Julia! I totally agree with you that all those shrines and temples are seemingly surrounded by a mystical aura. You can feel it but it’s nearly impossible to explain or describe this sort of thing 🙂
nice information you share.
Very cool you also have the post in Vietnamese. Also the time I visited, I had on specific feet follow me around, I didn’t feed it, but when I went into a large crowd it managed to follow me. The deer was able to recognize me and latch directly onto me which was sort of no issue, but this one was partially blind (a white eye), so I was impressed…. I need to find the video of it.
Perhaps, it could smell something. Maybe you had its favourite snacks. I remember that they like to eat maps (or papers in general) 🙂
I think I was holding ice cream… that would have been a great pic of me snd deer sharing ice cream together
Haha it would be a memorable photo 🙂