The Floating Torii on Lake Biwa
Shirahige-jinja is a Shinto shrine dedicated to Sarutahiko Okami, located in Takashima City in Shiga prefecture in Japan. The current Honden main pavilion was built in 1603 and designated Important Cultural Property in 1938. The place is famous for its torii, a large vermilion gate floating near the shore of Lake Biwa.
When talking about Japanese floating torii ⛩️ gates, the first to pop to mind is Miyajima’s famous Itsukushima shrine, near Hiroshima in the south of Honshu. However, in Shiga prefecture, Shirahige-jinja can also boast its own very beautiful floating torii.
Poetic sceneries around the lake
Access is easy from Omi-Takashima JR station, by car 🚙 or walking for the more adventurous. The walk indeed nicely starts in the rice paddies, near the wonderful Otomegaike pond, but it continues on Road 161, a busy national route that does not have sidewalks all along. One must therefore be very careful and walk on the right side of the road.
About 500 meters before the shrine, we recommend hikers to make a short detour above the road, to visit Ukawa Shijuhattai Sekibutsugun, a graveyard displaying 48 Buddha stone statues.
A first Shinto gate marks the entrance of Shirahige-jinja, opening directly on the central pavilion Honden. The Lake Biwa is on the other side of the road, as well as the site’s highlight: the floating torii. It stands facing stairways going down in the water. This poetic landscape offers beautiful pictures at sunset for example. However, this postcard-like scenery is troubled by the never-ending noise due to car traffic.
Road safety and sunset view of the floating torii
The major drawback of the site is indeed this busy road that separates the torii from the other buildings of the shrine’s grounds. Moreover, there is no pedestrian way available to safely cross the road with children, and the access to the stairway from which the best pictures can be taken is dangerous due to the traffic.
Despite this disadvantage, the surrounding forest provides a quieter exploration, and the passing of cars is quickly forgotten. According to the shrine’s records, Shirahige-jinja was founded by the eleventh emperor of Japan in the 1rst century BC; its current day's buildings however were constructed from the 17th century. Takashima’s Shirahige-jinja is the head-shrine for all its counterparts in the country. Its name means "white beard" and is intended to foster a long prosperous life. And as many of its counterparts, it offers the possibility to pray for happiness, love, and childbirth, as well as road safety (which is particularly accurate here).
Lake Biwa offers many places to visit all year around, and Shirahige-jinja is one that is particularly enjoyed by tourists and locals. Even if its access is not that seamless, it is recommended to go there after a day at the beach 🏖 or a cruise on the lake, to enjoy the beautiful orange colors of the sunset on the water.