The island was considered so holy that commoners were not alllowed onto it, so the shrine and its gate were built over the sea, to accomodate visiting pilgrims. Pilgrims are now joined by tourists and groups of school children who have their class photo taken in front of the shrine. Even now no one is allowed to give birth there and the dying are shipped to the mainland.
Itsukushima shrine houses the oldest Noh stage. Noh is a theatre form with musicians, singing, and a libretto, but you couldn’t really say it is opera. Originally it existed to tell stories of Shinto belief, which is why it’s first theatre is in a shrine.
The performers, actors and musicians, are only allowed one rehearsal together as an ensemble before the actual piece. There are several stories and the one we saw appeared to deal with the ghost of an angry woman who turns into a serpent and returns to wreak vengeance on the two other principal characters. [You can tell its a serpent by the traditional symbolic triangles on the costume].The male actor is in a mask and has a huge shaggy red wig.
Noh plays can be very slow to the outsider, so luckily for us we caught the last part, where all the action happened. Costumes for the other performers were in subtle colours with huge stiff trousers and pom pom necklaces.