What to See at Itsukushima Shrine

Great Torii (O-Torii)

The Great Torii stands about 16.6 meters tall (about the same height as the Great Buddha of Nara) and weighs about 60 tons. Its main pillars are camphor wood, formed from natural trunks about 500-600 years old. The torii has been destroyed many times by natural disasters, and the current structure is the eighth. It took nearly twenty years to find the giant trees needed for the main pillars the last time it was rebuilt. The construction method is also ingenious: the pillars are not embedded into the sea bed, but simply held in place through the sheer mass of the structure. Pine timbers are used to reinforce the ground underneath, and the top lintel (Kasagi) and the collateral lintel (Shimaki) are filled with stones to add weight. These and other hidden tricks show the cleverness of the people who constructed the torii.

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Main Hall (Honden)

The Main Hall enshrines Ichikishima-hime, Tagitsu-hime and Tagori-hime, the three Munakata goddesses. The current Main Hall was rebuilt under the control of Mori Motonari. The roof lacks the forked finials (chigi) and wooden logs (katsuogi) commonly seen on Shinto shrines. Instead, it is decorated with tiles laid over cypress bark. This is a style unique to Shinden-zukuri architecture. The front of the hall has diamond-shaped lattice doors painted blue-green.

Open Stage (Hirabutai)

The Open Stage is equivalent to the gravel garden in front of a Shinden-zukuri style palace. The part projecting out in front is called the Hitasaki (Bonfire Site), and is where the Kangen-sai Festival, one of the Three Great Boat Festivals of Japan, departs and returns from. The Open Stage was constructed when a temporary corridor was erected in front of the shrine buildings when the Taira clan visited the shrine for a mass with a thousand priests. Unlike the other shrine structures, which have wooden posts, these ones are red Akama stone donated by Mori Motonari. There are 239 in total.

High Stage (Takabutai)

The High Stage has a base of black lacquered wood and is surrounded by a red lacquered balustrade. It is accessed by stairs at the front and back. Towards the end of the Heian period, Taira-no-Kiyomori relocated the Gakuso, or Imperial Music Agency, for bugaku court dances from Osaka to Itsukushima. This is why bugaku came to be performed here. Until the stage was rebuilt in its present form at the start of the Edo period, it was a temporary stage that was assembled as needed.

Noh Stage

The noh stage at the Itsukushima Shrine, registered as an Important Cultural Property, is the only over-water noh stage in Japan. The first performance of noh here is believed to be that of the head of the Kanze Noh School, in 1568. In 1605, Fukushima Masanori donated a permanent stage. A noh stage normally has urns underneath the stage to allow sound to resonate, but as the Itsukushima Shrine's stage is over water, this is not possible. So instead, the entire floor is used as a sound board, designed to ensure foot stamping can be clearly heard.

Arched Bridge (Soribashi)

The current arched bridge was rebuilt in 1557 by Mori Motonari and his son Takamoto. This is shown from the inscription on one of the giboshi, or ornamental railing post caps often used for balustrades in shrines or bridges. In the old days, it was also known as the Imperial Messengers' Bridge (Chokushibashi), as it was used by messengers from the imperial court during important rites.

Corridors (Kairo)

The corridors are 4 meters wide and extend for a total length of about 275 meters. The gaps between the floorboards, known as "metoshi" (or "see-through"), are to relieve the pressure of the waves during high tides. They also act to drain away rainwater or seawater, letting it flow into the sea.

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