Itsukushima Shrine is a Shinto shrine on the island of Itsukushima (popularly known as Miyajima) in the city of Hatsukaichi in Hiroshima Prefecture in Japan. The shrine complex is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Japanese government has designated several buildings and possessions as National Treasures.
The shrine is dedicated to the three daughters of Susano-o no Mikoto, Shinto deity of seas and storms and brother of the great sun deity, Amaterasu (tutelary deity of the Imperial Household). Because the island itself has been considered sacred, in order to maintain its purity commoners were not allowed to set foot on Miyajima through much of its history. In order to allow pilgrims to approach, the shrine was built like a pier over the water, so that it appeared to float, separate from the land, and therefore existed in a liminal state between the sacred and the profane.
The shrine's signature red entrance gate, or torii, was built over the water for much the same reason. Commoners had to steer their boats through the torii before approaching the shrine. Retaining the purity of the shrine is so important that since 1878, no deaths or births have been permitted near the shrine. To this day, pregnant women are supposed to retreat to the mainland as the day of delivery approaches, as are terminally ill or the very elderly whose passing has become imminent. Burials on the island are still forbidden.
The first shrine buildings were probably erected in the 6th century, and the shrine has been destroyed many times. The present shrine dates from the mid-16th century, and follows the earlier 12th century design. That design was established in 1168, when funds were provided by the warlord Taira no Kiyomori. The shrine was designed and built on pier-like structures over the bay so that it would appear to be floating on the water, separate from the sacred island, which could be approached by the devout. Near the main shrine is a noh stage, funded by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the late 16th century. Noh theater performances have long been used to pay honor to the gods, and ritually act out key events in the mythic history of Shinto belief.