A Visit to Itsukushima Jinja (part 2)

During last summer’s research trip to Japan, I visited Itsukushima Jinja, an important Shinto shrine on Miyajima island in Hiroshima Prefecture. (If you’d like to start from the beginning, you can find part 1 here.)

The approach to the shrine follows the island’s shoreline to the natural inlet that protects the shrine from the strait beyond.


The shrine sits on stilts because at one time the island was considered too sacred for commoners’ feet to touch. By building the shrine below the high tide line, visitors could approach in boats and worship without touching the sacred soil.


Today, visitors approach the shrine by land.


After passing a ritual purification fountain (where most visitors stop to perform a Shinto purification of the hands and mouth)


Visitors enter the shrine itself. Like most Shinto shrines, there is no admission fee (though donations are happily accepted, and freely given by most of the visitors).


The shrine’s major buildings are connected by brightly-colored, covered walkways–all constructed above the high tide line.


Here’s the view from the entrance hall, looking out toward the shrine’s main buildings:


The shrine’s main worship hall lies only a short walk from the entrance. I took no photographs of the worship hall itself (it would have been disrespectful) but here’s a view of the Great Torii, as seen from the area right in front of the shrine’s main altar:


In fact, the great torii is visible from most parts of the shrine: 


Near the primary altar, visitors can have a goshuincho (stamp book) stamped and marked with calligraphy by the shrine’s priests and also obtain a fortune. Fortunes are available at many Shinto shrines. Visitors place an offering in the fortune box (usually the equivalent of $1) and shake a wooden stick from a canister. After reading the number on the stick, visitors remove a fortune from the drawer with the matching number and return the wooden stick to its place. Here’s my son receiving his fortune:


Sake is a popular offering at Shinto shrines, and many (including Itsukushima Jinja) display some of the offerings they receive. These are sake casks presented as an offering to the kami:


Like many Shinto shrines, Itsukushima Jinja is popular with tourists (both foreign and Japanese) as well as worshippers. If you want to see it without too many other people around, I recommend visiting in the early morning, late afternoon, or — best of all — spending a night in one of Miyajima’s ryokan (traditional Japanese inns – my favorite is Ryokan Iwaso) and getting up early to visit the shrine before the ferries start running in the morning.