Itsukushima Shrine, Miyajima

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I overheard a tourist snipe, as she passed a group of fellow tourists waiting in a queue on the platform directly facing the famous orange torii, “how many pictures can you take of a wooden gate?”

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Every picture reveals a different torii as the tide rises or falls, or the light changes from morning to night.

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Tourists from all over the world were actually waiting patiently and even happily in an orderly queue for a turn to take a keepsake photo in front of the famous gate, without other tourists in the frame. This example of cooperation was nearly as marvelous as the gate itself.

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Face to face with the enormous beauty of the great torii, it’s nearly impossible to not want to extract every shimmering moment, perhaps greedily, to keep inside of you forever. Lacking faith in our ability to retain that perfection and grace, we take a million pictures of a shrine.

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Perhaps she was just tired and cold, as was I. Or, maybe she was burnt out after endless days of unimaginable beauty.

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Getting out at sunrise rewards the early bird with uninterrupted views of the magnificent orange torii at low tide when it can be approached on foot. It is common practice for visitors to make wishes after placing coins in the cracks of the gate legs. Locals gather shellfish, which they add to soup.

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The tide rises in the late afternoon and evening, which also provides an uninterrupted view as it is surrounded by water and inaccessible to tourists except perhaps by boat or hoof.

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The view of the gate in front of the island’s Mount Misen is classified as one of the Three Views of Japan. A gate has been in place since 1168 but the current gate, built of camphor wood to resist decay, dates back only to 1875.

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Looking at the massive structure, you are left wondering how someone could have conceived of something so beautiful and so in sync with the natural world, dependent on the rising and falling of the sea for much of its beauty and poetry.

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The island has been considered sacred throughout much of its history. To maintain its purity, commoners were forbidden to set foot on the sacred island. In order to allow pilgrims to approach, the shrine was built like a pier over the water, so that it appears to float. Commoners had to steer their boats through the torii before approaching the shrine.

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I hope you are able to visit this beautiful place, sooner rather than later. Until then – dozo, please enjoy the million photos I took of a wooden gate.

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