I had done only a little reading about Miyajima before visiting (pretty much par for the course) and had seen a little blurb about the deer on the island. Wes had also mentioned them and I was prepared to see a few but I had no idea they'd be so prevalent. Or so bold! They flock to the touristy spots, especially near food stands, to try to score a snack right out of your hands (or out of your bag).
Wes has been to the island three time before our trip and told me about his friend attempting to "share" his french fries with a deer, only to have the thing try to stand in his lap and steal the bag right out of his hands. They're not scared of people and will often allow you to pet them. Food cart owners spend a lot of time shooing them away lest they sneak a sample their wares. Though most of the deer have their antlers removed, its no wonder you see signs like this scattered across the island. Duh!
The deer are allowed to roam free (though their population is regulated). They are considered sacred in the native Shinto religion because they are considered messengers of the gods. Try telling that to someone who just got their lunch forcibly stolen!
Wes and I headed toward the Itsukushim Shrine and scored a better photo with the Torii Gate. It was built in 1168 of camphor wood and is about 48 feet high. At high tide the gate appears to float, but visitors can walk down to it in the mornings before the tide comes in. It is common for visitors to place coins in the cracks of the legs of the gate and make a wish.
The Itsukushima Shrine, which dates back to the 6th century, is one of Japan's most popular tourist attractions--no mystery there. It's really cool! It juts out onto the sea on stilts!
The temples and shrines on the island are part of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, which is known as esoteric Buddhism in Japan. The sect teaches that humans can attain enlightenment through rituals combining physical, spoken and mental disciplines. Their deities are noticeably different from other Buddhist sects I've yet seen (some are downright frightening). This Kona looks like a watchdog from Hell!
This Fudo Myo-o deity inside the nearby Daiganji Temple isn't much better. His fierce facial expression shows his strong determination to make humans follow Buddhist teachings. Or else....
The island is very scenic and there are nature hikes all over the place. There are also several really large trees, as evidenced here:
We found a little hike off to the side of a few shops (it wasn't clearly marked) and found a small two story Pagoda at the top. It was cool, but the view from the top of the hike was more what I was interested in. The large building in the back with the sloped roof is the Komyoin Temple. Its also a good shot of the 5 story Pagoda and the Itsukushima Shrine.
This was the direction Wes and I were intending on heading, but cut through a side street and discovered a part of the island that Wes had not been to before. We ended up hitting the mother load when we found the Daisho-in Temple! The Niomon Gate serves as the official gateway into the temple. A pair of guardian king statues guard the gate and are said to ward off evil.
Wes has a thing for small Japanese statues and we discovered a little treasure trove of 500 Rakan Statues. They are representative of Shaka Nyorai's disciples and each one has a unique face and expression. There are several women among the bunch too. This is one of my favorite shots:
Throughout the complex there are prayer wheels. It is believed that spinning these Mani wheels invites blessings equivalent to reading one volume of the Hannya-shinkyo, or Heart Sutra. Spinning other wheels around the temple grounds are thought to bring you enormous fortune. I spun as many as I could!