Noilly Prattle: Getting Reacquainted 2 - Miyajima Day One

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Getting Reacquainted 2 - Miyajima Day One

the Great Gate (torii) and Itsukushima Shrine
    Things seem to come in threes in Japan. The Korakuen garden in Okayama is one of Japan's Three Great Gardens 日本三名園 Nihon Sanmeien while Miyajima in Hiroshima is one of the Nihon Sankei 日本三景 (Three Views of Japan), the three most celebrated scenic sights in Japan. For those who prefer precision and detail, the other two great gardens are Kenrokuen in Kanazawa and Kairakuen in Mito (the three Ks); the other two scenic spots are Amanohashidate (the bridge of heaven—think of Bifrost, the rainbow bridge in Richard Wagner's opera Das Rheingold) in Kyoto Prefecture and Matsushima (Pine Island) in Miyagi Prefecture.

the Setonaikai - the Inland Sea

         As I mentioned in my previous post, we decided to get reacquainted with Japan since we are not going to travel abroad for a while. Accordingly, we visited Miyajima not far from the city of Hiroshima recently. Miyajima is one of Japan's three celebrated beauty spots and a visit to this World Heritage Site will show you why. The site is not only one of a rare natural beauty, it is also a sacred place appropriate to the animism that inspires Shintoism, the ancient religion of Japan. The site is an exuberant celebration of the spirit that imbues the natural world with supernatural overtones. At high tide, and especially during the monthly lunar flood tides, the 厳島神社 Itsukushima Shrine and its attendant Torii seem to float in the space where sea and mountains meet.

         We took the bullet train from Okayama to Hiroshima and transferred to a local line from Hiroshima to Miyajima Guchi and from there by ferry to Miyajima Island. The weather was perfect as we sailed past the torii* (shrine entrance gate) that is unique in Japan in that it sits on the sea floor and is surrounded by water at high tide and appears to float. Behind the gate the shrine itself glides by behind the torii also appearing to float between the blue of the sea and the green of the mountains behind it. Shortly after leaving the torii behind we landed at the ferry port and walked the short distance to the shrine.

          The road along the waterfront is well tended and landscaped and full of deer. The deer are wild but do not fear people and can be quite bold. As I was taking a photo one rather large fellow came up behind me and started chewing insistently on my backpack and had to be persuaded to reluctantly take a hike. As you walk along toward the vermillion colored torii a breathtaking 5-story vermillion colored pagoda appears above the houses on your left. But, soon, you round a bend and the full glory of the torii and the shrine precinct come into view. The rest is just point your camera almost anywhere and take far too many pictures, of course.

大鳥居 [Great Gate]
           A bit of historical context about the (Itsukushima Shrine) complex. It was built in the 12th Century by Kiyomori, a local warlord of the Heike clan which is famous for its feud with the Genji clan in that period. At that time the Heike were in the ascendant and wanted the Emperor (who was thought the be a direct descendent of the sun goddess Amaterasu in Japanese mythology) to move the capital from Kyoto to his own home territory. (The Emperor is to Shinto as the Pope is to Catholicism, except that he is considered [or used to be] divine as well.) This would have been a fine feather in Kiyomori's cap, so he married his daughter to the Emperor and built the Itsukushima Shrine on the site of an older shrine in hopes of inspiring the Emperor to move. Things didn't work out, the feud erupted anew and the Genji clan defeated the Heike, but today we have this colorful breathtaking shrine complex fit for an Emperor.

* The original torii was built in 1168, but the current incarnation of the gate was refurbished in 1875. Known as the 大鳥居 [Great Gate] it is about 16 meters high and made of decay-resistant camphor wood. The gate is not embedded in the sea bottom, but rests of its own weight and balanced by its supports on the sea bottom.

wedding party

shrine buildings and torii at low tide -
during the lunar neap tides (low lows)
the torii is completely high and dry


the harmonious and contrasting colors make the scene look like a painting

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