Japan has lots of temples, and lots of shrines. You probably know this already. Sometimes its hard to choose between them, but one of my immediate methods of sorting the genuine, authentic temples from those which have become much less authentic money spinning tourist traps is to steer clear of those which have either a coach park or a lofty entrance fee.
So then, imagine my surprise to discover a Japanese temple which had only a token entrance fee and no coach park whatsoever? A beautiful winding complex of buildings perched on the edge of a bay, overlooking the sea beyond and framed by a dramatic tori gate.
Because that’s what I found on a day trip out of Hiroshima to the shrine at Itsukushima.
If you’ve got a Japan Rail Pass, then this trip is a must – partly because you can get there for free! Trains and ferries are covered with your pass, making the only cost the broadly token 300 yen entrance fee.
The roads leading to and from the shrine are a little touristifed, but not gratuitously so. They feature a few pleasant enough shops and places to get some lunch. The road to the temple along the coast is roamed by relatively tame deer, who’ll cautiously pursue anyone they think might give them some food.
The shrine itself is quite beautiful, consisting of a series of picturesque board walks beneath shining red archways. A photographers dream, it was first built in the 6th century, but of course it has been destroyed several times since then.
Indeed, this seems par for the course for pretty much everything in Japan. Everything seems to have been built 800 years ago, burned down 700 years ago, rebuilt 600 years ago, destroyed in a flood 500 years ago, rebuilt 400 years ago, destroyed by warring clans 300 years ago, rebuilt 200 years ago, destroyed by fire again 100 years ago… I suppose if you’re going to build stuff out of wood in a country which suffers from the absolute broadest range of engaging natural disasters, and which also spent the last 1,000 years regularly waging destructive civil wars between competing imperial clans, then its really no surprise that stuff keeps getting smashed up.
Alas, one hopes that the modern structure will enjoy some longevity, given its comparative beauty and attractiveness. As long as they put up some No Smoking signs and make sure the monks put out their barbeques safely, I’m sure it’ll survive a good while yet, or at least long enough for you to spend a very worthwhile few hours to go and have a look for yourself.
Itsukushima Shrine is on Itsukushima island. Take a train from Hiroshima station to Miyajimaguchi, and then follow the signs a short walk to the JR ferry terminal. Make sure you get the right one if you’re on a Rail Pass – you can only use the rail pass on the Japan Rail Ferry. The crossing takes about half an hour.