Travel: Treading Softly at Japan’s Itsukushima Shrine

The Itsukushima Shrine in Hatsukaichi off the coast of Hiroshima is sacred to the Shinto religion and a World Heritage Site.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

Travelers and religious pilgrims journeying through the Hiroshima region of Japan all set their course for the island of Itsukushima and the Shinto Shrine that made the destination a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Marked by the world famous, Torii Gate (above) that rises high above ferries carrying visitors from the mainland, the Itsukushima Shrine was originally built around 15 centuries ago. It was destroyed snd rebuilt on multiple occasions, and the current incarnation originated in the 16th century.

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The island’s strong tide rolls in under the sprawling shrine complex, making it look as though it’s floating on the bay and somehow separate from the sacred island Itsukushima calls home.

The shrine’s most famous feature is the orange Torii Gate. Standing more than 45 feet high and made of camphor wood, the water-anchored gate decayed over the years and has been rebuilt multiple times — with the current construction originating in 1875. 

Also: 2015 Tokyo Motor Show: Visiting the Mazda Museum, Hiroshima

When it comes time to rebuild the gate again, locals are concerned it could prove difficult to find materials. The main posts are single massive trees, and such ancient growth is protected in our 21st century world. When the wind and water take their toll on the gate again, new trees that can take the load could be hard to find.

For Shinto pilgrims, the shrine is dedicated to the three daughters of Susano-o No Mikoto (the Shinto god of the sea and storms) and brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu (god of the Imperial Household). There are locations throughout the shrine where those who come to pray to Shinto deities can leave their prayers as offerings on small scrolls or wooden slates.

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The view of the Torii Gate at sunset is described as one of the essential sites in Japan, and I had a chance to catch the moment on a recent trip to Hiroshima while covering Mazda and the Tokyo Auto Show. You can explore other images from Itsukushima in the gallery below.

All photos by John Scott Lewinski