Itsukushima: The Shrine over the Sea


Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, overwater shinto shrine WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, tidal pools WMWith its brightly colored vermillion lacquered finish, the shrine is dramatically framed by the salty blue sea below and the lush green forest of Mount Misen rising high above. Although there are conflicting stories about exactly why the shrine was built almost entirely over the sea, it is a stunning sight no matter the reason. The reflection of the shrine in its surrounding waters makes for memorable photos, particularly in the theatrical light of an early morning sunrise or in the duskiness of the setting sun. But it is in sensing the spiritual sanctity of the place that makes a visit here so emotionally moving.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, teapot WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, shrine lamps WMSince ancient times, it is said, the Japanese people have worshipped on the beaches below and in the woodlands surrounding Mount Misen (see The Fiery Passion of Mounting Mount Misen for more). With origins from as far back as the late 6th century, the Itsukushima shrine’s boardwalk, over-water construction is a result of the island’s sacred status: commoners were not allowed to set foot on the island and those who wished to visit had to remain offshore, so to speak. In fact, the traditional and still ceremonial approach to the shrine is by sea, passing through the famously imposing great “otorii” in the bay (see Floating Torii of Miyajima for more).  Today, visitors can hire a boat to take them through the otorii by sea, but only when the tide is up; this is an especially inviting excursion if the high tide occurs in the evening when the entire complex is bathed in warm light from the surrounding shores.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, otorii gate across the shrine's tidal pools WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, purifying water 2 WMIt is possible to get some fabulously scenic views of the shrine from the areas that surround it east and west. But, if you have time – and it doesn’t take much, pay the inexpensive entrance fee and enjoy the serenity of walking through the shrine’s many passages where a visitor can truly appreciate the intricate curvature of the rooflines, recognize the different mythical creatures cast into the many hanging iron lanterns, and admire the beautifully finished doorways and woodwork. If you time your visit right, or if you are patient enough, you can experience many of the more remote corners of the shrine almost all to yourself. Take your time wandering through the meandering corridors, and be sure to take in the changing views from an almost infinite number differing angles and varying backgrounds of forest, water and adjacent shrines, temples and a five-story pagoda that can be spied over the treetops. Be forewarned through: the relative beauty of the shrine is much altered by the tides. Unless you visit near one of the highs, the shrine (and otorii) are often surrounded by rather unmemorable mud.  Jody and I decided to visit twice to take in different tidal ranges; I also went back in the rain to admire the quiet ambiance of this historical place.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Shinto Monk walking the shrine WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, protective foo dog 2 WMThe shrine’s present architectural form and style dates from about 1168, the time of its last major redesign and rebuild, when the shrine first started to become popular outside of the immediate region. However, the shrine has, on numerous occasions, been since damaged by fire and typhoon, and each time it was repaired, renovations also occurred which resulted in continual expansion and improvement. As its size and magnificence grew, the shrine’s grandeur eventually caught the imagination of the Japanese Imperial Court.  While there most likely will be some type of repair or renovation during your visit, the shear size of the place makes it easy to overlook such necessities.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, lonely boardwalk WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, light from a chinese latern WMStarting in the late 12th century, the Japanese Imperial Emperor and Court paid a number of visits to the shrine, where the shrine experienced a marked degree of prosperity. But such stability was short-lived as the shrine’s influence declined in the 13th and 14th centuries. It is believed that the present-day layout dates from around 1325. Finally, in the mid-1500s, with regional conflicts settled and civil wars over, the shrine regained its reverence and grandeur of centuries past.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, monk and priest geta (wooden clogs) WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, shinto shrine WMThe result of such a long evolution is a mish-mash of stylization which reflects the features of the particular periods when construction occurred. The shrine’s overall appearance, though, is most often considered a splendid example of Heian Period Shinden architecture, some saying the finest in all of Japan. This is the same style used at the time for the residences of the Imperial Court and noble class, and can be found throughout the old Imperial Palace in Kyoto.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, silent boardwalks WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, shinto shrine at night WMIt’s interesting to note that no nails are used in the boardwalks, and spaces are provided to reduce any buoyant effect of an extreme tide or tidal surge. At such times, the stone lanterns lining the beaches on each side of the shrine are dismantled and set among the shrine’s corridors to provide additional weight against rising seas.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, red shrine nuns 2 WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, leaving a prayer and wish (shrine ema) WMSince the shrine is built in the sea, its foundation posts are submerged in the water and decay rather easily. It is also constantly weathered and sometimes battered by rough seas and even typhoons. And although continual maintenance is thus required, visitors today are still able to see nearly the same shrine as the Heian Court did nearly 800 years ago when Itsukushima was first built.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, ema boardwalk WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Jody hide and seekOne of the most notably famous structures found within the shrine is the “floating” nōh stage. Built in 1680, it is unique in Japan as it rests completed upon the sea. Sacred dance (shin noh) is still performed here during the annual Peach Blossom Festival in April when traditional court dances in spectacular costumes and ornate masks are featured.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, chinese foo dog (shisa shishi) WM

Sori-bashi (Arched Bridge)

Sori-bashi (Arched Bridge)

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, chinese foo dog (shisa shishi) 2 WMThis bridge, dating to 1557, also called the Imperial Messengers’ Bridge (Chokushi-bashi), was used by imperial messengers who crossed on important festive occasions. Due to the almost impassable slope of the span’s high arch, temporary stairs were assembled and placed on the bridge to allow for much easier passage. The bridge has been repaired several times since construction.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, oriental-inspired shinto shrine arched bridge WM

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, empty celebratory sake barrels WMToday, the entire complex is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a designated “National Treasure” of Japan. About 3 million people a year come to see Itsukushima Shrine and its huge “floating” otorii gate on the sacred island of Miyajima. As one of the three great scenic views in all of Japan, you too, should go!  Be it an easy day-trip from neighboring Hiroshima, or have a stay in one of the island’s many ryokan, place this island on your Asian bucket list.  You won’t be disappointed.

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, peaceful day on the waterfront WM

 

Read more about Japan’s Floating Shrine over the Sea:

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/japan/western-honshu/miyajima/sights/religious/itsukushima-jinja#ixzz3nGf4EUKq

http://visit-miyajima-japan.com/en/culture-and-heritage/spiritual-heritage-temples-shrines/sanctuaire-itsukushima.html

Commander, United States Navy, Arriving!


“There’s always a reason to celebrate…but knowing why is helpful.” ~Wishful Prayer on our Ema left at the Itsukushima Shrine

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Ema always a reason to celebrate

Jody and had for months planned an overly expensive blow-out vacation in celebration of our near-future together: either retirement from the Navy on 1 January 2016, or another 3.5 years and an additional tour in the Navy, ending with Jody as a Commander at 30 years of total service.

O-Torii Gate, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

O-Torii Gate, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

15839684381_aec7060d66_bYou see, that fork depended upon this year’s Commander (O-5) Selection results. But that split in potential paths forward should’ve been reached for us a full two years ago. In 2012, the Navy decided to split the “zone,” a grouping based on seniority which determined eligible candidates for promotion – get this – exactly at Jody. So, rather than being considered for promotion in the spring of 2013 as expected, we had to wait another year until Jody became even eligible. Frustrating, to say the least….

Married Vets

Married Vets

Jody Serving in Japan

Jody Serving in Japan

Then in 2014, Jody and I were shocked when she was not selection for Commander after waiting an extra year to finally become eligible. And that made this year her last shot. The Federal government has a statutory requirement it places on the military that states if you are eligible for retirement and miss a promotion to the next rank twice, you must retire. It’s called “two-time failure on selection,” and it’s exactly what forced me out of the service as a Lieutenant Commander in 2008.

Dining and Sleep Area in our Ryokan

Dining and Sleep Area in our Ryokan

Private Balcony Onsen Bath

Private Balcony Onsen Bath

In-room Dining

In-room Dining

So, we planned this celebratory vacation starting on June 29th, expecting the Commander results to be released the last week in June like they usually are. We booked a high-end Japanese Ryokan, a place known for their 12-course gourmet meals served in your room prepared by award-winning chefs, in a room that had outdoor bathing fed by a onsite onsen (hot spring), on the resort island of Miyajima just outside of Hiroshima. We were going to end this trip with a 3-night stay in the infamous city right next to the Peace Memorial Park and Museum at the ANA Crowne Plaza.

At the A-Dome, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

At the A-Dome, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

We fully expected to know the results of Jody’s board prior to leaving. But in any case, at the worst, we would certainly know prior to the July 4th holiday weekend while we were on vacation. So even if we left without knowing, certainly we would know before our return.

Placing our ema at the Itsukushima Shrine

Placing our ema at the Itsukushima Shrine

Miyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Ema always a reason to celebrate Jody writing WMMiyajima 2015, Itsukushima Shrine, Ema always a reason to celebrate writing WMOf course the Navy had different ideas. For whatever reason, the selection results were delayed this year (it appears at the SECDEF level). We have a tradition of leaving our prayers and wishes at most of the Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples we visit in Japan. So, at the beginning of our celebration-vacation, we placed an ema (See Shinto Shrines and Snake Oil for more) at the famous Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima Island, wishing, “There is always a reason to celebrate…but knowing why is helpful.  To discovering why we celebrate in Miyajima.  The Kings ~ Jody and Kevin.”

At the famous Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

At the famous Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

Frustrated that we celebrated without knowing why, we came home and simply stopped worry about the results, at least on the surface. I stopped asking Jody about results, and she stopped checking every morning. It would happen when it happened, and there was nothing we could do about it. Of course it had always been outside our spheres of influence from the start….

Richshaw Ride, Miyajima

Richshaw Ride, Miyajima

And like most other things in life, when you let go of stress and worry, things have a way of working themselves out. Early this morning, when Jody got up to pee as the category 4 Typhoon Chan-hom was making her closest approach to Okinawa, Jody had a text message from a nurse co-worker. Dana’s boyfriend, a Navy Officer back on the East coast of the United States, had sent the just-released selection results forward. And Jody was on the list!

Not just the prettiest nurse in the Navy, now the prettiest COMMANDER in the Navy!

Not just the prettiest nurse in the Navy, now the prettiest COMMANDER in the Navy!

Jody is now a full Commander (select)!! Seems Mother Nature was already in the know and giving Jody a wetting-down worthy of one she so strongly deserved.  And yes, this means Jody outranks me now. Don’t worry, I salute her all the time (wink-wink).

At the O-Torii in the rain, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

At the O-Torii in the rain, Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

Most likely she will pin the new rank on in December. And this means that we will finish up our tour here on Okinawa, slated to leave in August of 2016. Jody will start immediately negotiating our next set of orders, and plans to do three more years of active duty service once she’s a Commander to take full advantage of retiring as an O-5 (“high-three” retirement plan, where retirement pay is calculated as the average of the highest three years of salary on active duty). Ideas we are considering are a return to Pensacola, or quite possibly, a Consecutive Overseas Tour (COT) in Europe…if there is something available where we would want to go.

15464969601_68f2e95bdf_b

7926452868_629435d039_b13117509193_a3e1975570_bCongratulations Jody on making Commander. It is a long-time coming, and well-deserved. You have truly succeeded in your nursing profession and have excelled in the United States Navy, having progressed from the junior enlisted ranks to full Commander during your long military service. I couldn’t be more proud, and I look forward to throwing you a more proper wetting-down celebration later this year. I eagerly await continuing our adventures together.

Learning some maritime military history at the Kure Maritime Museum

Learning some maritime military history at the Kure Maritime Museum

Fair Winds and Following Seas, My Love.

Miyajima 2015, beautiful Jody on the ferry across

Or, should I say, “Ma’am”?!?