Learn about Itsukushima Shrine in more detail

Who built it and why?

Itsukushima Shrine was founded in 593, supposedly by Saeki-no-Kuramoto. However, the current style, with the buildings appearing to float on the water, was first constructed in the late Heian period. Taira-no-Kiyomori, governor of Aki Province (now part of Hiroshima Prefecture), was a frequent worshipper at Itsukushima Shrine, and provided funds for its reconstruction by Saeki-no-Kagehiro. The style of buildings connected by corridors was built in 1168.

Why is it built out over the water?

Because the entire island is considered to be a deity, erecting a shrine on the land would be seen as harming that deity. Hence the structure was built over the sea. As a result, it forms a cluster of shrine buildings seemingly floating on the sea that cannot be seen anywhere else on Earth, a sight which attracts visitors from around the world.

Was it always so famous?

The shrine was a place of worship since it was founded, but Kiyomori's devout faith and the rise in influence of the Taira clan meant that the shrine became famous throughout the realm. After the Taira clan were overthrown, the shrine went into a period of decline in the Kamakura period (1185-1333). But Mori Motonari's victory in the 1555 Battle of Itsukushima placed the shrine under his command, paving the way for its fortunes to rise again. During the Edo period (1603-1867), the shrine became popular with commoner pilgrims, along with the Ise Grand Shrine and the Shikoku Pilgrimage route.

Why was it registered as a World Heritage site?

Itsukushima Shrine was registered as a World Heritage site in 1996. The architectural landscape of the Shinden-zukuri style shrine buildings located above the water, the buildings in harmony with their surrounding environment presenting a Japanese standard of beauty, the fact that the original architectural styles have been preserved to this day, and its significance as a facility for Shinto, Japan's endemic religion, were recognized and led to its registration. The Itsukushima Shrine complex consists of 20 structures, including the Main Hall, Offering Hall, Worship Hall, and so on. Of these, six structures are registered as National Treasures while fourteen more (including the Great Torii Gate, the Five-Storied Pagoda, and the Tahoto Pagoda) are Important Cultural Properties.

Basic Chronology

Asuka Period (592-710)
593: Saeki-no-Kuramoto is believed to have founded the first Itsukushima Shrine.
Heian Period (794-1185)
1168: Itsukushima Shrine is rebuilt in its current form.
Kamakura Period (1185-1333)
1287: The Buddhist preacher Ippen visits. The scroll painting that shows his visit, "Ippen Hijiri-e," is the first known visual depiction of the shrine.
 
Muromachi Period (1336-1573)
1571: Reconstruction of the Main Hall of Itsukushima Shrine is completed and the deities returned. (This return of the deities is called "Genki-no-Sengu," meaning 'transfer of deities in the Genki Reign Period')
 
Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573-1603)
1587: Toyotomi Hideyoshi visits Itsukushima Shrine and orders Ankokuji Ekei to construct the Senjokaku Hall.
 
Edo Period (1603-1868)
1643: Hayashi Gaho writes "Nihonkoku Jisekiko" (A Study on the Sites of Japan). This listed Itsukushima along with Matsushima and Amanohashidate as the "Three Great Views of Japan."
1806: The cartographer Ino Tadataka arrives to survey the island. Basing himself at Daiganji temple, he surveys the various inlets.
1866: Katsu Kaishu holds talks at Daiganji temple with delegates from Choshu Domain on a ceasefire.
 
Meiji Period (1868-1912)
1881: Major repairs to the Main Hall of Itsukushima Shrine are completed and a deity transferal ceremony held.
1899: Okakura Kakuzo and others visit the island to survey old temple and shrine buildings for preservation. 35 items, including the Special Protected Buildings of the Itsukushima Shrine buildings, along with paintings, calligraphy, sculptures, and works of art and crafts are registered as National Treasures.
 
Showa Period (1926-1989)
1931: Matsudai Passenger Lines (currently Miyajima Matsudai Kisen Tourist Ship) starts operating a regular ferry service to the island. Hiroshima Gas Electric Railway's (currently Hiroshima Electric Railway) Miyajima Line opens fully.
1952: The entirety of Itsukushima Island is designated as a Special Historic Site and a Special Place of Scenic Beauty.
 
Heisei Period (1989-2019)
1996: At the 20th UNESCO World Heritage Committee Meeting, Itsukushima Shrine and the primeval forest of Mt. Misen Behind (Natural Monument) are registered as a World Heritage site.

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