A Guide to Ise – Holiday in the Old Rutal Town, Forest & Jingu Shrine in Central Japan

Kyoto and Nara in West Japan are definitely the oldest cities in Japan.
Kyoto had been the capital of Japan for 1000 years (794 – Mid 19th century) and it is the birthplace of Japanese culture such as literature.
Nara is even older; It had been the capital from 710 to 794.
These two cities are major destinations for Japanese students’ school trips, and not to mention to international travelers who hope to see temples, shrines and traditional Japanese culture. Few people will regret seeing the beauty of Kyoto and Nara.But what do you think of a town which is even much older than Kyoto and Nara?Ise is a rural town in Mie Prefecture, Central Japan, which is famous for huge Ise Jingu Shrine.

Uji Bridge to Ise Jingu Shrine

Ise Jingu Shrine is so old that nobody knows when exactly it was built. But it cannot be wrong that the history of Ise started in the age of Japanese myth.

It is said that Ise Jingu Shrine was built in 4 B.C.
More than 2000 years ago!

Get interested?
This post will show you how Ise is like, tourist info to visit there, accommodation and my own experience with tips.
The travel guide part is at the bottom, so enjoy photos and stories first.

Let’s go O-Ise Mairi (= a journey to visit Ise Jingu Shrine) on Tokyo Direct Diary with me!

First of all, let me repeat that shrines and Buddist temples are completely DIFFERENT in Japan (I wrote the differences and the history here.)

I believe that Hiraizumi in North Japan is one of the most beautiful and interesting site of Japanese Buddhism. The temples were built to realize a heaven in this world.
This time, Ise is a place of shinto shrine. So that means it is a place of nature.
It is very difficult NOT to understand it when you see it yourself.
Ise Jingu Shrine owns the huge forest and the places people can visit consist of two areas called Naiku and Geku.
Geku is near from Ise-shi (= means “Ise City”) Station and hotels. This part was built around 1500 years ago, so it is 500-year-younger than the original. Still old, anyway.
People traditionally visit Geku first.
Entrance to Ise Jingu Shrine Geku

 

The main building of Ise Jingu Shrine Geku
Strolling in Ise Jingu Shrine is like walking in a forest. Old, tall trees are all around. You will meet  thick trunks in the path you are walking. We’ll see a bit about how Japanese people started to pray for the nature.
Tip: The paths in a shrine – whichever it is Ise Jingu or any other – are often gravel paths. It will be tiring if you wear pin heals or unstable shoes, especially in a large shrine where you walk a lot. I recommend flat and soft walking shoes.

There are smaller shrines in the site, too. I feel that “among the woods” is a better expression.

Ise Jingu Shrine is so large that we need to take a bus to move from one area to the other. But don’t worry. The shrine and the street around it are the only places to visit in Ise, so if you stay there, you’ll have enough time to explore the fresh nature.
Naiku is the original part of Ise Jingu established 2000 years ago and even larger than Geku. Many of must-sees in Ise are concentrated in Naiku.
Consider it as the main area.

I referred to the meaning of a bridge in Japanese gardens several times on Tokyo Direct Diary – For example, cherry blossoms in Shinjuku Gyoen Gardens.
Uji Bridge to Naiku must be one of the oldest bridges in Japan.
Entrance to Ise Jingu Shrine Naiku
Uji Bridge is over wide and pure Isuzu River.
To advance on a bridge to the other side means to go to another world.
In Ise, you are entering the sanctuary of gods.
Isuzu River from Uji Bridge

 

Isuzu River and bridge protectors
Mitarashi, a hand-washing place, in Isuzu River
People who visited Ise Jingu Shrine to pray used to wash their body here to purify themselves in the cold, clear water of Isuzu River. I must write it in the past tense.
Tip: You might feel it from the photos – The sunshine was quite strong. Although there are so many shades in the rich forest of Ise Jinbu, I recommend a hat.
No matter how the water is pure and cold, never dive into Isuzu River. We wash our hands here today.
The architecture of the very main building of Ise Jingu Shrine is originated from granaries of ancient Japanese people. So we meet the essence of the oldest times of Japan there.
The sacred shrine up the stairs has no-photo policy. See it ourselves.
The main building of Ise Jingu Shrine Naiku
Naiku has many small shrines as well as Geku. More importantly, there is a huge Kagura-den (= hall for prayer) beside the path. I heard of some traditional music from there.
You may meet some chickens somewhere in Ise Jingu.
They are NOT in the cage!
Chickens walking around in Ise Jingu Shrine!
These chickens are considered to be messengeres of gods in Ise. They are keeping some horses and carp as well. Personally, the carp was impressively well-grown with brilliant colors.
Carp in Ise Jingu Shrine

Naiku has 5,500 hectares of ground, and actually, most areas are a forest where people do not enter. Once as a sacred place, now it is protected as a nature reserve as well.When you experience enough of Ise Jingu Shrine, you cannot miss Oharai-Machi Street and Okage-Yokocho area inside it.

It is a purely Japanese street with good restaurants, food stands and souvenir shops. They have been welcoming travelers to Ise for hundreds of years.
Oharai Machi Street in front of Naiku

There was a boom to visit Ise in Yedo era (1600 – Mid 19th century.) People in Yedo (= Tokyo’s old name) wished to visit Ise so enthusiastically that they walked hundreds of kilometers in a big group – When someone departed from Yedo to Ise, new people joined on the way! It’s a story of old times.Okage-Yokocho area was recently made by Ise locals to welcome today’s travelers in the very same atmosphere of O-Ise Mairi boom in Yedo era. We stroll along the buildings, foods, toys, etc, of that time. There is also a stage and we can enjoy traditional drum performances, etc, for free.

Okage Yokocho area in Oharai-machi Street
When you walk a lot in Ise, you must get hungry and thirsty.
The restaurant Butasute was established in 1909 – As long as Asakusa Imahan in Tokyo. Beef for a Gyudon is directly from Ise.
Gyudon (rice with grilled beef) at Butasute

If you want some Japanese sweets, Akafuku has been welcoming Ise visitors since 1707.

Akafuku Head Store in Ise

Hopefully I will write about Ise’s unique souvenirs in another post.

So how was a virtual trip to Ise?
As far as I see it, if one or more of the following touch(es) your heart,

  1. You hope to explore the essence of Japanese animism.
  2. You like a place with a long history. The longer it is, the better you love it.
  3. You want to visit somewhere different from other international tourists to Japan.
  4. Not only must-sees, you want see a rural town.
  5. You wish to refresh in a rich, soft and deep forest in Japan.

Ise is a right, and fantastic place to visit.

Hope this post is refreshing for your busy life!




Travel Guide – All About Trips to Ise

How to Get to Ise

From Tokyo
First, you move to Nagoya. Change trains there to Iseshi Station.

Take a Shinkansen (Japanese super express) at Tokyo Station or Shinagawa Station to Nagoya, Toyota’s hometown. In Nagoya, there are two railways to go to Ise; One is Kintetsu rapid trains and the other is JR (=Japan Railway) Rapid Mie trains.
Actually, there are not differences between these two trains; It takes almost same time and the tickets cost almost same. Take either depending on your schedule, and you will have no inconvenience.
Around 12000 yen, 3 and half hours.

From Osaka
Take a Kintetsu train to Iseshi Station.
Tsuruhashi Station in Osaka City is a major station to catch Kintetsu trains. Around 3300 yen, 2 hours to Ise.

Accommodation

Ise is a rural town, so you do not have too many choices as in Tokyo.
Only 12 hotels are found including hotels in Toba, the neighboring district. When a hotel looks good based on your taste and budget, that’s the best hotel for you.
I recommend staying there because Ise Jingu Shrine has so many things to see that only one day will be too short.

See & Book a Hotel in Ise

Tip: When your main purpose is Ise Jingu Shine, convenient hotels are those near Iseshi Station.



Booking.com


A packaged train ticket combined with a hotel by JR and other Japanese travel agencies can be a discount. If you find one which fits you, it is a good idea to get it.
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