The island of Itsukushima, in the Seto inland sea, has been a holy place of Shintoism since the earliest times. The first shrine buildings here were probably erected in the 6th century. The present shrine dates from the 12th century and the harmoniously arranged buildings reveal great artistic and technical skill. The shrine plays on the contrasts in colour and form between mountains and sea and illustrates the Japanese concept of scenic beauty, which combines nature and human creativity.
Justification for Inscription
The Committee decided to inscribe the nominated property on the basis of cultural criteria (i), (ii), (iv) and (vi) as the supreme example of this form of religious centre, setting traditional architecture of great artistic and technical merit against a dramatic natural background and thereby creating a work of art of incomparable physical beauty.
The shrine buildings of Itsukushima-jinja are in the general tradition of Shinto shrine architecture in Japan, generally constructed at the foot of a mountain. They have preserved the styles prevailing from the late 12th to the early 13th centuries and are important as examples of the ancient type of shrine architecture integrated with the surrounding landscape, the physical manifestation of human worship of nature.
The buildings consist of the main shrine buildings (Honsha), constructed and composed to achieve harmony within a single design concept, and the other buildings that have been added to them over a long period of history. Each building has high architectural quality in itself.
The architectural style of the north-facing Honsha buildings and the west-facing buildings of the Sessha Marodo-jinja, connected by the kairo (roofed corridor), was influenced by the aristocratic dwelling-house style of the Heian period. The frontal view of the buildings, with the mountain as a backdrop, is emphasized; the entire area, from the Otorii in the foreground to the mountain in the background, resembles a succession of folding screens. The delicate forms of the red-painted buildings in front of the dark green of the mountain create a striking composition with sharp contrasts of colour and mass.
Like many other Shinto shrines that had constructed Buddhist buildings, Itsukushima-jinja lost many of them after the rejection of Buddhism with the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The few that survive in the surrounding hills are considered to be as indispensable to the history of ltsukushima-jinja as its Shinto monuments.
Honsha: the buildings, consisting of the Haraiden , Haiden (worship hall), Heiden (Hei hall) and Honden (main hall) are on the axis of the Otorii . The Haraiden projects out towards the sea and the Haiden and Honden , linked by the Heiden and covered by a single roof structure, are ranged behind it, parallel to the sea. They give a calm and elegant impression with the delicate lines of their generously spreading eaves, the soft roof surfaces, and the horizontal lines of the floors, nageshi (horizontal tie-beams), and kahiranuki (head tie-beams). They are supported on structural frames composed of massive wooden columns and kumimono (brackets).
In front of the Haraiden is the Hirabutai (ceremonial platform), which is connected by a plank floor to the Higashi-kairo (east corridor) and the Nishi-kairo (west corridor) for access from other parts of the complex. The Hirabutai projects forward and is the setting for the Takabutai (stage), with vermilion lacquered balustrades on four sides. The court dances performed on this stage were brought from the capital in the Heian period (794-1184) and have been preserved by the priests of ltsukushima for more than eight centuries.
The Sessha Marodo-jinja shrine complex, north-east of the Honsha group, faces west. Its components (Haraiden , Haiden , Heiden , Honden ) are laid out in the same form as those of the Honsha, and are very similar in style.
The area contains the ancillary buildings associated with Shintoism and Buddhism that accreted over the centuries around the famous Shinto shrine. These include the Gojunoto (five-storey pagoda), Tahoto (two-storey pagoda), Sessha Tenjin-sha Honden and Massha Hokoku-jinja Honden (Senjokaku). Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
ltsukushima Island is one of many in the western part of the Setonaikai (Set0 Inland Sea), between the islands of Honshu and Shikoku. Because it has the region's highest mountain, Mount Misen (530 m), it has been worshipped by people in the region since ancient times: they felt such awe that they dared not set foot on it, worshipping it from afar. However, their faith was so great that they were driven to construct shrines on the shores of the island on more than one occasion.
It is thought that Itsukushima-jinja was founded in 593, although its existence is not confirmed before 811. The Nihon Koki states that ltsukushima no kami (the god of Itsukushima) took his place among the celebrated gods, and the Imperial household began to present hei (sacred staffs with cut paper at the top) to the shrine. It became known as a sacred shrine in the COUntn/ of Aki during the Heian Period (794-1184).
It is not known when building work began. However, it is recorded that Saeki Kagehiro, a Shinto Priest, reported to the Imperial Court that he reconstructed the main shrine buildings in 1168: during this work the scale of the buildings was increased and the roofing of some was changed from shingles to Japanese cypress bark. This reconstruction, believed to have been financed by Taira no Kiyomori, the most powerful leader of the time, Set the Standards for subsequent reconstructions in both scale and composition. Kiyomori believed that he owed his successful record in the civil wars of Hogen and Heiji and his subsequent political promotion to his religious faith in Itsukushima-jinja, and the belief that the god of ltsukushima was a guardian deity of the Heike family deepened his veneration of the shrine, where he worshipped on every important political occasion of his life.
The reconstructed main shrine buildings were destroyed by fire in 1207 in the Kamakwa Period (1185-1332) and reconstructed eight years later, only to be burnt down once again in 1223. This time the reconstruction took longer, not being completed until 1241; the major surviving shrine buildings date from this reconstruction. From this time onwards, total reconstruction of the complex became too large a task and so buildings were reconstructed on an individual basis. During the Kamakuta Period the shrine was under the Patronage of the feudal government, but in the succeeding Muromachi Period (1333-1572) this came to an end.
Since ltsukushima-jinja was built by the sea, it suffered repeated damage from wind and flooding, but each time it was restored with the support of influential people at national and local level throughout the ages. The Otorii (large Shrine gate), Set in the sea, was especially vulnerable and was frequently reconstructed, most recently in 1875. New buildings were also added to the main compound, to create the present ensemble - the Gojunoto (five-storey pagoda) in 1407, the Tahoto (two-storey pagoda) in 1523, the Sessha Tenjin-sha Honden in 1556, and the MaSSha Hokoku-jinja Honden (Senjokaku) in 1587.
ltsukushima Island has an important commercial role in the Inland Sea by virtue of its position. By the late Muromachi Period (1233-1573) a market had been opened on the island, round which an urban area developed. A Buddhist temple was erected near the summit of Mount Misen, and this also attracted many pilgrims and visitors. The island lost the somewhat forbidding character as a sacred island reserved exclusively for the act of worship, that it had had in ancient times and became an open island possessing great beauty from its integrated landscape of religious buildings and natural features, so that by the middle of the Edo Period (1600-1866) it had become acknowledged as one of the Three Most Scenic Places in Japan (Aki no Miyaiima).
Source: Advisory Body Evaluation