Last week’s post was about kingyo-sukui (きんぎょすくい / 金魚すくい), so this week I need to start with い (i). A big thank you to japanaustralia for suggesting ika (イカ / squid), ikasumi pasta (イカスミ パスタ / squid ink pasta), Iga (伊賀 / the home of ninja in Mie prefecture), ikebana (生け花 / flower arrangement), and two of his favourite places in Japan – Ise Jingu (伊勢神宮) and Inuyama Castle (犬山城). Abi seconded Iga, which she has visited. She says “the ninja museum was brilliant fun and I dressed up as a warlord in the castle.” It does sound like excellent fun, but this week I have decided to write about somewhere I have been and loved…
Ise Jingu (いせじんぐう / 伊勢神宮)
Ise Jingu is, in my opinion, an absolute “must-see” tourist spot in central Japan. Located in the city of Ise in Mie prefecture, Ise Jingu is a Shinto shrine complex which features two main shrines – Naiku (Inner Shrine / 内宮) and Geku (Outer Shrine / 外宮). Photographs are forbidden in certain parts of Ise Jingu, so I don’t have many pictures of the shrines themselves.
Getting to Ise Jingu is quite easy from Nagoya Station (which is less that two hours from Tokyo). At Nagoya Station you just need to walk across to Kintetsu Nagoya Station (which is not far at all from the Shinkansen part of the station) and take the Kintetsu Line train (limited express) to Ise-shi Station (which takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes). Once at the Outer Shrine (Geku), which is about a 5 minute walk from Ise-shi Station, you can take a special bus to the Inner Shrine (Naiku) for around ￥410, which takes about 15 minutes. The shrines are free to visit, but do make sure you have some money for souvenirs and food, as the streets around the shrines are lined with interesting shops and restaurants. The main shopping street is Okage Yokochou, and I would certainly recommend taking some time to walk along and soak up the traditional atmosphere there (although the usual tourist goods, such as Hello Kitty branded items, are available there too).
Unlike other tourist spots in Japan, although Ise Jingu gets very crowded and busy in certain areas, and at certain times of year, it is still very possible to find a peaceful spot to relax there, and the views are gorgeous.
The busiest time to visit Ise Jingu is during the New Year period, when the whole area is absolutely packed. I’ve been to Ise Jingu twice – once in May 2009 (during Golden Week) and once in January 2010. When I went in the January it was actually January 2nd, and the whole place was so incredibly packed because of hatsumode (初詣 / the first shrine visit of the year). It was still possible to get around and see everything, but the queues were enormous, even just to cross the bridge. Given the choice, I would rather visit there when it is not a public holiday, as it would probably be more relaxing.
One of the most impressive features of the Ise Jingu complex is Uji Bridge – a 100 metre long wooden bridge which stretches across the Isuzu river at the entrance of Naiku. The first time I went to Ise they were actually rebuilding the bridge:
When I returned the following year is had been completed, and it was beautiful:
Despite the crowds, everyone was patiently walking across the bridge, touching the side for good luck. I still remember the smoothness of the new wood, and how fresh and clean it looked.
Ise Jingu is one of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan, and a lot is hidden inside buildings and behind fences, away from the public’s sight. The buildings themselves are quite simple, and not ornately decorated like some shrines you find in other parts of Japan. This means that, unlike some other famous sightseeing spots in Japan, there isn’t so much to see around the actual shrine areas, but Ise is such a beautiful place and you can experience a lot of traditional Japanese culture there, as well as some traditional food in the local restaurants.
According to the JNTO, “the inner shrine in Ise Jingu was said to have been established in 4 BC, and the shrine town has continued to develop since then“. The shrine buildings, including the bridge I mentioned above, are rebuilt every twenty years, and that rebuilding is marked with the Sengu Festival, associated with the Shikinen-sengu Ceremony, when the shrine’s deity is transferred from the old shrine to the new shrine.
In spring this year a museum, the Sengukan Museum, was opened at the entrance of the Outer Shrine. In the museum, visitors can learn more about the shrines’ rebuilding. “The museum’s outstanding exhibits include a fourth of a 1:1 replica of the shrine’s main building as well as a beautiful 1:20 model of the main sanctuary. A pamphlet provides the only information in English, making it somewhat difficult to fully appreciate all the exhibits for visitors without Japanese reading skills”. (Japan Guide) I’d certainly like to check it out next time I’m in Japan.
(Image: Japan Guide)
Ise Jingu has its own website in English, and it’s pretty tourist-friendly when you get there, although don’t expect everyone to speak English. Arm yourself with a good guidebook and some basic Japanese, and you will have a wonderful time visiting a classic historical site.
Ise Jingu (いせじんぐう) ends with a sneaky う (u), so next week I will be looking for a noun beginning with “u”. If you have any suggestions, please leave them below and I’ll give you a mention next week! And, don’t forget, no words ending in ん! (^_^)v