Serene and inviting, these shrines are a must-visit in Japan. Every Japan guide suggests visiting a shrine – make time for a visit and you’ll fall in love.
With a rich cultural heritage and history dating back thousands of years, Japan is renowned for its ancient traditions and religious beliefs. Across the country, over 80,000 Shinto Shrines and temples have been built, all as striking as the next. Each shrine is a sacred place of worship and travellers are encouraged to pay their respects whilst learning about Japanese culture. Here are seven shrines in Setouchi, Japan’s Inland Sea, that are worth a visit – no Japan guide is complete without a visit to these serene shrines.
Itsukushima Shrine, Hiroshima Prefecture
Located in the surrounding waters of Itsukushima Island, the Itsukushima Shrine is arguably one of the most famous and photographed in Japan. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the shrine is said to have been constructed in 593 by Saeki Kuramoto who governed the island at the time.
Itsukushima encompasses a Main Shrine with different worship halls stemming from the left and right sides, but it is most recognisable for its iconic orange Great Torii Gate, which stands in the water at a distance from the main structure. Thousands of worshippers visit Itsukushima each year to pray for the safety of the Seto Inland Sea.
Mitaki-dera, Hiroshima Prefecture
Dating back to 809, Mitaki-dera in Hiroshima is a two-storey temple dedicated to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. Nestled at the base of Mount Mitaki, the shrine has three waterfalls and over 300 stone Buddha statues. One of the best times to visit the temple is in autumn, when the leaves on the surrounding trees turn into deep reds and oranges, perfectly complementing the exterior of Mitaki-dera.
Ikuta Shrine, Hyogo Prefecture
The bustling city of Kobe is notably famous for its eponymous beef, but it is also home to the Ikuta Shrine – one of the oldest shrines in the country. Visitors pray for good health at Ikuta and it stands as a symbol of resurrection, due to the challenges and natural disasters it has withstood in the past.
At the back of the shrine is the Ikuta Forest, known as a healing place for visitors to reconnect with nature. The shrine is also frequented regularly by young couples who pick up good luck charms which are said to ensure happiness and romance throughout their relationship.
Kotohira-gu Shrine, Kagawa Prefecture
Located halfway up Mount Zōzu, the God of the Sea Kotohira-gu Shrine in Kagawa stands as a symbol for sailors and the maritime industry. To reach the top of the shrine, travellers must climb 785 stone steps to the main hall before another 583 steps to the inner Izutama shrine at the peak of the mountain.
Those who complete the arduous journey are rewarded with intricate architecture and spectacular views of the surrounding cities, parks and mountains. Within the shrine, a number of paintings depicting maritime scenes can be found.
Motonosumi Inari Shrine, Yamaguchi Prefecture
The Motonosumi Inari Shrine is recognised around the world for its 123 red gates that ascend up a cliff and overlook the Japan Sea. Found just outside the city of Nagato, the contemporary shrine was constructed in 1955 and is said to bring good luck to the people of the area.
Visitors can also witness the Ryugu no Shiofuki (translated as dragon place geyser), a scenic phenomenon where waves crash against a hole in the cliff, resulting in water shooting up into the air.
Ushimado Shrine, Okayama Prefecture
Situated next to the beach, Ushimado Shrine has the charm of a seaside location whilst reflecting Japan’s rich history and culture. Established over 1,000 years ago, the shrine was built during a Shinto revival when Japan was looking to differentiate its influences and beliefs from China and Korea. Visitors enter the shrine via a tree-lined pathway and will discover photographs, paintings and hanging paper lanterns inside.
Rurikō-ji Temple in Yamaguchi
Spanning five levels and standing at over 30 metres tall, the Rurikō-ji Temple in Yamaguchi City is a pagoda of remarkable status. The temple was established in the 1400s and is ranked as one of Japan’s three greatest pagodas, alongside Horyuji Temple in Nara and Daigoji Temple in Kyoto. Both Japanese and Chinese architectural styles are prevalent in the temple’s elaborate woodwork, creating an iconic structure that stands out against the backdrop of lush green forest.
The area west of Kyoto encompasses the Seto Inland Sea, which is one of the most prominent multi-island seas in the world. Setouchi includes the seven prefectures of Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Tokushima, Kagawa and Ehime.
Known for incredible modern art and sculptures, design in the region includes Naoshima, Japan’s Art Island, and Miyajima – the shrine of Itsuku-shima standing in the sea. Home to four UNESCO World Heritage sites, Setouchi is also known for its quality produce, like traditionally-made udon noodles in Kagawa, and 275 Sake breweries.
Every Japan guide will suggest seeing a shrine, visit one and you won’t be disappointed.
For more information on Setouchi, visit setouchitrip.com.