Friday, September 25, 2009

Water gate

The partially submerged Torii (gate) to the Itsukushima Shrine is one of the most popular guide book images of Japan. Commonly referred to as Miyajima, the shrine is dedicated to the three daughters of Amaterasu, the sun goddess from whom legend claims the Imperial Household of Japan is descended from. The daughters are goddesses of the sea, hence the snuggling up to the waterfront concept of Miyajima. The present shrine dates from the mid-16th century, but sits on the same site as buildings extending back to the 6th century, due to the Japanese perchance for rebuilding rather than preserving. (It is possible that the extensive use of wood as a building material makes this a more practical step than for the stone-based European constructions).

Despite its popularity as a tourist destination, Miyajima is a beautiful place to visit. The shrine is located on an island just outside Hiroshima and is reached by ferry boat. The small town is host to a large group of tame deer which have become rather too accustomed to being fed by enraptured tourists. The sign in the square implores visitors to not "tease or touch" the deer, rather suggesting a dangerous deer-tourist hybrid might have arisen through inappropriate liaisons.

Aside from the shrine (for which this is one of hundreds of identical photos I could not resist taking), you can take a cable car up the mountain to enjoy views, shrines and ... monkeys. These red faced, red bottomed numbers are not into waiting for a tourist to offer a tasty snack, but will simply help themselves, prompting the cable car company to provide free lockers for people's belongings.

Assuming you escape the wildlife, a walk along the mountain will take you to the shrine where the Kiezu-no-hi (the eternal flame) has been burning for 1200 years. It is from this fire that the pilot light for the "Flame of Peace" in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park was lit.

Back in Hiroshima, I am staying at a JHoppers hostel which is rather like being a student again but with a build-your-own futon that I had to construct from the pile of blankets and mattresses in my room. It was quite exciting.

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