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Itsukushima Shrine is a Shinto shrine in Japan. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1996. The Itsukushima Shrine is perhaps best known for its iconic red gate, which appears to float on the water, and is one of the classic views of Japan.
Itsukushima Shrine is built on the island of Itsukushima, which is also known as Miyajima. The island has been a sacred spot in the Shinto faith for centuries, and it is believed that the first shrine was built there in the 6th century. This original shrine was built to the goddess of the ocean, the daughter of the goddess who created Japan itself.
The shrine soon became the favored shrine of a powerful family, the Taira. In order to protect the island, and to raise the prestige of the shrine, they forbade anyone to settle there, to give birth there, or to die there. In time, it became forbidden for commoners to even set foot on the island.
The current shrine was built in the latter-part of the 12th century, when Taira no Kiyomori, a powerful warlord of the same clan that originally took an interest in the island, donated funds for its construction. The modern shrine is built on piers that extend out over the bay, so that people could visit it without violating the prohibition against touching the land.
At low-tide, Itsukushima Shrine is not particularly stunning. It appears to be a series of beautiful buildings set up on wooden pilings and surrounded by grayish-brown mud. When the tide comes up, however, the entire view changes dramatically. The water covers the pilings, and all of Itsukushima Shrine appears to be floating magically upon the water.
The gate of Itsukushima Shrine is perhaps more famous than the shrine itself. The first gate was built when the 12th century shrine was built, but its current incarnation dates back only the 1875. The large floating stage is also renowned for dances and ceremonies. Itsukushima Shrine is also a very popular location for traditional Japanese weddings, and lucky visitors may find themselves able to watch in on one of these beautiful events.
Behind Itsukushima Shrine, the island itself is a wonderful attraction. With the prohibition of commoners visiting lifted, its natural beauty is available for all to see. And while the shrine itself is sometimes crowded with visitors, the many hiking trails that cross the island are usually quite empty. The island offers some amazing views, beautiful flora and fauna, and a nice chance to relax while waiting for the tide to come in.
Itsukushima Shrine is relatively accessible, as well. It is near Hiroshima, so visitors to that city will find it a must-visit destination. A tram connects Hiroshima to the shore of the lake, and ferries run regularly across the channel to Miyajima.