The small island (only twelve square miles) of Miyajima Japan is located in the inland Seto Sea off the coast of Hiroshima, about an hour's ferry ride away. While there are several notable Japanese temples on the island, it is the Itsukushima Shrine that is the most famous, and it is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Jima means island in the Japanese language, and miya, means temple or shrine.
Sacred in both Shintoism and Buddhism, the land of the island was considered so hallowed, that the main structures of the Itsukushima Shrine as well as its beautiful torii gate were built over the water. A torii gate is the signature traditional Japanese gate generally set at the entrance to Japanese temples and Shinto (and often Buddhist) shrines. The Itsikushima torii gate seems to float ethereally in the mists on top of the water at high tides. The present gate was built in 1875, and was the eighth erected. It is more than 50 feet high and nearly 80 feet long. If you're deciding when to go, consider the colorful Kangensai Festival in mid-July, when elaborately decorated boats carrying traditionally dressed dancers performing sacred classical dances ply the waters in front of the shrine
The island is dominated by the sacred, pine-forested mountain of Misen San inhabited by monkeys and deer, the island's highest peak at 1,739 feet. Things to do on Miyajima include the serene walking and hiking trails around and on the mountain, which boasts several small Japanese temples on its summit. One of these is the Gumonjido Temple, built in the early ninth century by the Buddhist sage and scholar, Kobo Daihi after he returned from his expedition to China. The view from atop Misen San reveals the distant mountains of the Shikoku region and the beautiful islands and shoreline of the Seto Inland Sea, one of the most scenic areas and tourist destinations in the country. The island of Miyajima Japan itself is one of the country's most important sacred attractions, and many faithful Shinto and Buddhist devotees embark on Miyajima travel on pilgrimages. Traditional Buddhist prayer wheels inscribed with sutra (Buddhist scriptures) are set in the center of the stairs, and turning these wheels while ascending is a sacred ritual. There is a significant amount of walking (about two hours) involved in reaching the summit, so those who do not wish to, or cannot, walk have the option of an aerial tramway.
The primary Itsukushima Shrine was constructed in 593 AD, and enlarged in 1168. It is an extraordinarily beautiful temple complex consisting of the main shrine, built over the water, and several subsidiary temples. There is a noh drama (a type of Japanese play) and dance stage and numerous bridges and walkways linking sections of the complex. Its elegant pagoda was built in 1407 and is nearly 90 feet tall. Seven other shrines are set on the rocky shores around Itsukushima and accessible only by boat.
Other things to do on Miyajima include visiting the Museum of History and Folklore, housed in the 160-year-old residence and storehouse of a wealthy family, and the modest but respected island Aquarium. Transportation to Miyajima Japan is by boat. Public transportation by one of the trains in Japan connects with the public ferry. This is slower, but less expensive, than boats that depart directly from the Hiroshima Peace Memorial (also a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
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