Itsukushima Shrine

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The shrine buildings are aligned in a straight line with the torii out in the water.
The shrine's famous torii appears to float on the water when the tide is in.
  • Established: 6th century
  • Re-established: 12th century, Taira no Kiyomori
  • Rebuilt: 1556
  • Japanese: 厳島神社 (Itsukushima-jinja)

Itsukushima Shrine is a Shinto shrine located on Miyajima in Aki province (Hiroshima prefecture). Much of the shrine is built out over the water, and at high tide is said to appear to float; the massive yotsu-ashi (four-legged) torii is easily one of the most famous in the country, and the shrine is cited as one of the Three (Most) Beautiful Views in Japan, along with Matsushima and Amanohashidate.

The shrine was first established in the 6th century, but the site is said to have been considered sacred even before that.

Taira no Kiyomori re-established the shrine in the 12th century, having it built in the shinden zukuri style of Heian period aristocratic mansions. It is said that Kiyomori took great pride in the shrine, donating extensive funds to it and showing it off to a great number of friends and noble personages[1].

In 1554, the shrine and other areas of Miyajima Island were the site of the battle of Miyajima, fought between Sue Harukata and Môri Motonari. Following the battle, the shrine was rebuilt in 1556[2].

The shrine is organized around two structures - the honden and haiden - which extend out over the water. These, along with a platform for ritual dances and a stage for Noh performances, are connected to the land by a series of covered walkways. The Noh stage is said to be, perhaps, the oldest in the world. The two main buildings, and the dance platform, located one in front of the other, face out over the water, forming a direct line with the torii. A secondary shrine, with its own honden and haiden arranged similarly, sits to the east of the main shrine, facing perpendicularly across the face of the main shrine; this maro-do jinja is dedicated to a number of male guest deities, while the main shrine is dedicated to female deities, namely, three daughters of Susano-ô. The shrine's treasures include the Heike Nôkyô (a set of 32 scrolls of sutras copied onto lavishly decorated paper by Kiyomori, his sons, and other members of the Taira clan), and a painting by Yokoyama Taikan of Okakura Kakuzô as Chinese poet Qu Yuan.

The main section of the shrine, as the tide comes in. When the tide is high, the complex extends out over the water. It faces out towards the torii, which would be off to the right from this point of view.


  • Ching, Francis D.K. et al. A Global History of Architecture. Second Edition. John Wiley & Sons, 2011. p399.
  • Mason, Penelope. History of Japanese Art. Second Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005. p165.
  1. Sansom, George. A History of Japan to 1334. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1958. p276.
  2. Sansom, George. A History of Japan 1334-1615. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1961.pp234-235.