Miyajima: Island of Shrines

While studying abroad in Japan, our program director took us to Hiroshima for a visit and the final day of the trip was a visit to Miyajima, home of the famous Itsukushima Shrine and picturesque “floating” torii gate. The island is often referred to as deer island due to the many deer that roam around, much in the same manner as was the case in the times of the Buddha at deer park.

As a result of Japan’s drive to Western tastes the traditional Shinto marriages have fallen out of favor, nevertheless, we witnessed a wedding ceremony taking place with the traditional Shinto rites, clothing and priests present.  After the ceremony there is a long procession, with the bride and groom being pulled at the front by rickshaw and followed by family members on foot. The rarity of such a ceremony and especially the proceeding parade made our visit to Itsukushima a very unique experience.

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Shinto Wedding Ceremony

The island as a whole is well know for its picturesque surroundings and for having a vast array of shrines and temples, thereby receiving the nickname Miyajima (island of shrines). The most noteworthy is of course Itsukushima which dates back to the 12th century and was dedicated to the daughters of the Shinto god of seas and storms. The vibrance of the orange-red color in contrast to the white of its walls and the surrounding green of the island’s hills makes for a visually striking work of architecture that leaves quite an impression. Yet, one of the strangest things about the entire shrine is that no births or deaths are allowed to “taint” the purity of the shrine therefore pregnant women are not allowed near the shrine. In addition those who are terminally ill or elderly are made to leave for the mainland and burials are strictly prohibited. Despite this rather weird note, Miyajima remains a worthwhile and beautiful place to visit in southern Japan.

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Itsukushima at low tide
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