Mie Prefecture & Ise Jingu

Ise City, Mie PrefectureーSummer has come and gone, and the temperature is finally starting to drop in Japan. October 1st marked the start of a new semester and, so far, all of my classes are going well. Lately, I’ve been busy with a new research project (more to come in a future post!). There was a long weekend last week, but unfortunately due to a typhoon, my plans were cancelled. Of course I had to make up for last week and so this past Sunday I went to Mie Prefecture for the first time.

Ise is roughly two hours away from Osaka by train. I always enjoy leaving the city behind and seeing all of the rice paddies scattered throughout the countryside.

The trip started by taking a train from Osaka to Ise-Nakagawa Station. From the station, I travelled by car because the transportation system in Mie isn’t quite as convenient as more urban areas in Japan.

The first destination was Ise Jingu, the most sacred Shinto shrine in Japan. It boasts a history of over 2000 years and is home to one of the three imperial regalia of the Japanese imperial family. In total, there are 125 shrines on the grounds which is roughly the same size as the centre of Paris. According to the shrine’s homepage, over 1500 rituals are conducted each year and are dedicated to the prosperity of the imperial family, world peace, and a fruitful harvest.

We started at the geku, or the Outer Shrine as it is more commonly known as in English. The geku enshrines Toyouke Omikami, the deity and guardian of food, housing, and clothing. It is said that Toyouke Omikami provides the food for the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu Omikami. The geku is traditionally visited before the naiku (Inner Shrine).

Main sanctuary of the geku.

The walk to the main sanctuary takes visitors along a path in a beautiful forest. As the path comes to an end, there is an impressive wooden fence surrounding the shrine. The sanctuary itself is even more impressive and was built in the traditional shinmei-zukuri style. Its gabled roof is thatched with reed, and it is one of the few shrines to continue using this technique.

Perhaps what shocked me the most was the large open space beside the sanctuary. The map of the grounds marked the spot as an “alternate site” for the shrine. Ise Jingu is unique in that it still carries out a process called Shikinen Sengu, where the shrine is rebuilt every 20 years in a new location. Although the shrine is rebuilt every 20 years, the whole process itself takes eight years to complete. According to the shrine’s records, “the first Shikinen Sengu of Naiku was conducted in 690, in the era of the 41st emperor Jito. The latest Shikinen Sengu conducted in 2013 was sixty-second.”

The shrine’s alternate site.

After making our way through the geku we got back in the car for a quick drive to the naiku, or Inner Shrine. Of course, no trip is complete without a little gourmet tour and so before entering the shrine grounds, we tried some of the local foods at a handful of restaurants and food stalls. Although akafuku, a Japanese sweet made from red bean paste, is the most iconic treat found in Ise, henbamochi is a local favourite.

After filling up on local delicacies, it was time to cross the 100 metre bridge and enter the naiku. The bridge is said to separate the daily world from the sacred realm and is also rebuilt every 20 years.

Ujibashi Bridge

The bridge takes you across to yet another impressive forest lined with massive trees that are hundreds of years old. A torii gate standing atop of a grand staircase frames Japan’s most venerable sanctuary where Amaterasu Omikami is enshrined. She is said to have been enshrined here over 2000 years ago.

The imperial regalia I mentioned earlier on the post is housed in the inner-most courtyard of the sanctuary and is hidden from the public. (According to recent newspaper articles leading up to the enthronement ceremony, even the emperor himself cannot see the regalia.)

After visiting the Inner Shrine, we hopped back into the car for a quick drive to Meoto Iwa shrine – a beautiful Shinto shrine located beside the ocean. The unique feature of this shrine can be seen in the photo below – two rocks emerging from the water bound by a shimenawa rope that is replaced three times a year.

The larger of the two rocks represents the husband and the smaller one represents the wife.

I ended the day with tea at a hotel overlooking the harbour and dinner at a small gyoza shop that has recently gained popularity after being mentioned in the Micheline Guide.

This was another successful day-trip for the books! Now that I am back in Osaka, I’ve got a lot to do for school and work, but I’m looking forward to the next time I have a chance to sneak away from the city and explore more of the country.

On another note, the Canadian Federal Election was held yesterday on October 21st. Voting from outside of Canada has been made a lot easier in recent years, and I was very happy to have the chance to cast my ballot despite being outside of the country. Living alongside people from all around the world during my first year in Osaka, I gained an even greater understanding and respect for the right to vote and to have that vote be reflected at a national level. Many of the students I went to school with do not have that opportunity. Regardless of your political affiliation, I hope everyone took the time to vote in this election.

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