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The Floating Tori

September 21, 2012

Itsukushima Shrine is located on Miyajima, an island off the coast of Hiroshima, Japan. Though my purpose in Japan was to study Buddhism, we had to stop by one of the main Shinto sites in the country and see their famous structure, the Floating Tori Gate. These gates mark the path to holy sites in the ancient animistic religion, places that house spirits or to identify a place where the natural and spiritual worlds intersect. There is a certain aura about the place, from the elaborate architecture to the entire shrine’s location on a tidal flat, which means at high tide the whole temple and its gate seem to float atop the water. I happened to arrive during a wedding ceremony, and witnessed a priest disguised as a kami (spirit) performing a dance. I took this picture in the middle of  this ritual and at that very moment I certainly felt as though the ancient nature spirit had indeed swept through the gate into our world, and beckoned to me.

I typically add a philosophical lesson of sorts after each description, but in this case my advice will be a little more applicable: Know a little history! Before visiting this site I had done a fair bit of research into the Shinto religion. It was absolutely fascinating in its own right, but understanding the context gave me a vastly deeper understanding than had I wandered in blindly. I would have appreciated the artistry of the building and the costume, but not much more. I do not believe that ignorance is bliss, and rarely is knowledge a grander gateway to appreciation than when you travel. Visiting a new place is always more interesting when you know a little about its history.

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