How to Visit a Shinto Shrine: Part 2 Ise Jingu

During my time in Japan, I have visited hundreds of Shinto shrines. It’s almost impossible to walk 10 minutes without “visiting” or accidentally walking through one. After awhile they all start to look the same but visiting Ise-Jingu in Mie-ken was a unique experience. It is different from other shrines because it is considered one of the most important and holy shrines in all of Japan.

When I told teachers at my school I was taking nenkyuu (work holiday) in order to visit Mie-ken they were all very surprised. They kept asking me why I was going to Mie-ken because it is a lot like Fukui very rural and inaka. Then they would say, “Ahh! You want to see Ise-Jingu?” and they didn’t have any other questions. It’s such a famous spot that it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary that myself and my friend would traverse the whole width of the country just to see it.

Laura, my fellow traveller on this trip, was on the way back to Japan from Korea (lucky girl!) so we decided it would be best to travel separately and meet at Ise Station in Mie. The ride from Fukui was lovely. I got to go past Lake Biwa, through Kyoto, and Then through Nara by train. Riding on a train during spring through these traditional and beautiful places was really fun since I got to see the sakura everywhere!

Once I met up with Laura we headed straight for our Hostel and some food. During our stay in Mie, we made Ise City our home base. There is only one hostel in Ise-shi and luckily for us it was a good one. We stayed at Ise-guesthouse Kazami. It was easy to find from the station and a short distance from the shrine. We were able to stay in a 2 person tatami room so we had a pretty good amount of privacy for a hostel.

Our brightly colored hostel. Super easy to find!

 

On the first night of our trip, we took it easy. Because Laura had just come back from a week and a half in South Korea and was a bit exhausted from travel. First she took a nice nap and I went for a run in preparation for my first 5k race the next weekend. I got a bit lost during my run because I went in search of a river that was nearby but it was smaller and more difficult to locate than I thought. I’m glad I ended up getting lost because it was a great way to see a bit of the city!

When I came back smelly from my run Laura and I decided to walk to a nearby onsen. We had no idea of knowing if the onsen was good or just a typical sento. We found the onsen on the Mie-ken AJET (the local chapter of JETs living in Mie) website. It was a great resource for planning our trip because it had the most comprehensive information in English about Ise-shi.

Lucky for us, the onsen was a very nice place. We took a bath and chatted about her trip to Korea and about our plans for the next few days. After our bath, we ate dinner at the restaurant and got massages. Onsens are a wonderful thing for a weary traveler. It’s a one-day spa adventure at an affordable price! Highly recommended if you need a little R&R.

not the actual onsen we went to, but doesn’t it look pretty? I want to be in that tub right now

 

Walking back to our hostel well rested and relaxed we called it an early night in order to get up early for the day exploring Ise Jingu.

It should be noted that Ise Jingu is a shrine split into two parts the inner shrine and the outer shrine. The outer shrine is a short walk from the hostel and we explored there first. It has more grounds but has less of the “important” shrines and altars. After a few hours walking around the beautiful grounds and taking pictures, we walked to a bus station where you can catch a 15 minute bus ride to the inner shrine. The bus station is in front of the entrance to the outer shrine on a covered platform. You can’t miss it.

 

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Walking up to the first tori at the outer shrine

 

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Laura at the beautiful river everyone was washing their hands in!

 

The inner shrine I found way more impressive than the outer shrine. Here were many alters and shrines hidden and tucked away in the beautiful forest and corners of the grounds. People were much more reverent here than at any shrine that I had ever visited before (including Kyoto shrines!) It’s actually forbidden for anyone to see the very center shrine’s alter outside of the royal family. The reason for that is because this shrine is dedicated to the sun goddess, Amaterasu, who is said to have given birth to the first Japanese emperor. So I guess you can say this shrine is a family shrine.

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In front on of the larger altars in the inner shrine. The wood looks new because the shrine gets completely rebuilt every 20 years. We are only 2 years into this version of the shrine!

 

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It’s also forbidden for you to take pictures of the main shrines outer building because of its importance and reverence. I felt a bit like I was in a cathedral in Europe. I noticed that even though in the other post I said Japanese people don’t take Shintoism and shrines very seriously, at Ise Jingu they were different. They bowed after passing each tori. There were lines of people waiting to pray and make wishes at side shrines. They were buying charms and amulets. It seems like this shrine, in particular, means a lot to Japanese people. I’m definitely glad I got to see that side of traditional Japanese Shintoism.

After our visit to the shrine, we headed back to the hostel and found  a nice restaurant to eat gyudon (a traditional beef on rice dish) since Mie is famous for its Masusauka beef. it was definitely the BEST gyudon we have had in Japan! After dinner, we wandered around looking for a bit of nightlife or some kind of bar to be social at and but there really wasn’t anything around. Mie-ken is just as rural as Fukui! Even though we were hoping to hang out a bit more and wanted to meet some local people and practice speaking Japanese, we enjoyed our quiet walk through Ise-shi. It was very quaint in its quietness.

Gyudon. Super delicious.

 

The next day we went to Miyagawa river for hanami (sakura viewing). We were lucky that the forecasted rain held off and we got to enjoy one of the 100 best Cherry blossom spots in Japan. In the afternoon, we headed out to Toba-city port and enjoyed a water boat cruise, amazing seafood, an ocean view onsen, and visiting Mikimoto Pearl Island.

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A cute family of kids getting set up to take their picture among the cherry blossoms. Reminded me of many springs in texas driving to take pictures of us sitting in bluebonnets as children.

 

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Miyagawa river in Ise-shi

 

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Just a beautiful tunnel of sakura. luckily the rain held off!

 

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Haven’t had enough Sakura pictures yet? Don’t worry! I have about 200 more on my computer.

 

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Toba City Port. Hajimemashite (nice to meet you) Pacific Ocean!

 

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Pictures from our boat cruise around the port

 

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Laura and I at a stop during our boat cruise. It says dolphin island behind us. They had a bunch of dolphins and dolphined themed things to do. Mostly for children but it had a great view of the area!

 

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Toba port turned out to be a very nice choice for an afternoon of sightseeing. It was close and had a good tourist information center across the street from the station. We found a ton of information in English and planned out our day with a very helpful man who worked there. He was really good at speaking simple Japanese and Laura and I had no problems chatting with him about Mie and Fukui. Its so exciting whenever that happens!

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Laura with a seafood feast for lunch. It was worth every penny! Especially the kaki frai (fried oysters!)

 

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The Mikimoto pearl island. This was a demonstration of the traditional women pearl divers

 

It was overall a very successful trip to Mie-ken. I really enjoyed being a tourist in Mie. It’s a prefecture that someone who is just visiting Japan for a few weeks would never go out of their way to see, so it felt a bit more special than my other trips in Japan. Even though Ise-Jingu is a very famous national landmark, it doesn’t get a ton of tourists that stay overnight in the area because its so isolated from other major tourist attractions.

Some people might have hated a quiet night with nothing to do, but Laura and I enjoyed seeing another part of Japan that reminded us of the quiet rice fields of Fukui. Every corner of Japan is covered with history no matter how rural it is. It was a moment where we both realized we could spend a lifetime in this country and still discover new things in our backyard.

Here’s a little video I put together quickly. The music is the taiko group Kodo. The video is just collected footage from my weekend.

I’m really looking forward to my next vacation to a rural prefecture. Anyone have any suggestions?

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