Saturday 30 July 2016

The Pilgrimage - Ise Grand Shrine (part 3)

This is the final part of a 3 part post about a recent trip to Ise city in Mie.  You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

Morning on day 3 arrived way too early and after a quick shower and a brisk walk to the convenience store for a bite to eat, it was out the door to meet Chiyo who was kindly coming by to pick us up and show us around a couple of more places.  We started driving out of town toward a place called Ise Skyline and proceeded up Mount Asama.  We pulled off the road and parked at a temple called Kongosho-ji Temple.  

Kongosho-ji Temple dates back to the 6th century and stands over Ise on it's east side atop Mount Asama.  It is said to have been built to protect that side of Ise Shrine (just another example of how different religions co-habitate and cooperate peacefully together.

We started walking toward the temple Mon (gate)

as as we approached Chiyo mentioned that we will feel a difference as soon as we pass through the gate.  She was right.  The air temperature was noticeably cooler on the other side of the gate.  There may have been a logical reason for it, I don't know and I didn't ask.  The atmosphere was suddenly very solemn as we had entered this.

A pathway lined with sotoba (grave markers) stretching what looked to be up to 10 metres high.  Now Japanese cemeteries are far from scary places (I went and enjoyed cherry blossoms at daytime and nighttime in a big cemetery in Tokyo this year) but the air was still and cool and and silent as people shuffled their way past glancing up occasionally to respectfully read the names etched into each one.

We moved on and around to the main temple hall area with it's imposing buildings standing tall and grand.

We passed by and headed down some steps to the left of the main temple hall which lead out into a beautiful green area with a pond, 

a bridge 

and school of carp swimming happily towards us hoping to get fed.

And Chiyo didn't disappoint them!

Pretty soon it was time to make a move so we headed back out to the car and made our way back down to Ise and back toward Naiku (the inner shrine).  Being a Saturday there were a lot more people around so finding a car park was a challenge.  We had to park a little way away from the shrine which was fine, as it allowed us to enjoy a walk back along the river.

We walked back into Naiku and into the lush, deep green of the gardens again.

There were a few more people around than there had been the previous night.  

The sun was blazing down and the humidity was stifling.  Each breath brought me closer and closer to the impossible drowning on dry land!!  I come from a very dry area, so even the slightest humidity is difficult for me!

I battled on and soon we arrived at Naiku's innermost tori.  This was as close as I felt comfortable taking a picture.

The buildings around the area had only been replaced a few years previously so the wood was still relatively unstained from the weather.  The architectural style was the same as the buildings at Geku where we had been the previous day.

We made our way back to the Shrine shop 

where I bought an omamori (shrine good luck charm) which is supposed to help me find my perfect match.  Let's see how well it works!!

At this stage Chiyo had to leave us and go to work so Atra and I went back to the shopping street for one last walk along it to soak in the atmosphere.  It was definitely much more crowded than even the previous day.

The last thing we stumbled across before we went back to the hotel to get our bags and head back to Tokyo was a taiko drum performance.

Now I love taiko and I truly feel that it represents the soul of Japan and recommend to anyone who has the chance to experience a taiko concert to definitely not hesitate to do so.  It is quite exhilarating in it's rhythm, intensity and power as you can see from this short video.

All too soon, however, our trip was over and we made our way back to Nagoya to get on our Shinkansen 

and head back to Tokyo.  It had been an amazing few days.  Ise had amazed me with it's friendliness, hospitality and the local's willingness to speak English to me in it's shops and restaurants.  The peace and tranquility I had felt on the first night at Oharai machi and on the second day at Geku had givin me quite the Zen moment.  My pilgrimage was over, for now, but I am already planning a trip back next summer!

Thank you to Atra, who had accompanied me on this trip and kept me entertained (!) and to Chiyo who had very kindly shown us around some of the beauty that Ise has to offer.

Also, thank you to Atra who had taken my camera from me early on and took many of the pictures that you see here.

Thank you again for reading and experiencing this trip with me.  Please leave a comment below and share the post if you know someone who would like it.

See you next time!

Bus from Tokyo to Nagoya - 3,150 yen one way.
Train from Nagoya to Ise - 2,770 yen one way (reserved seating express train).
Accommodation in Ise at Kazami guesthouse - 4,000 yen per night for a single room or 2,600 yen for a bed in the dormitory.
 Shinkansen (bullet train) from Nagoya to Tokyo - 11,290 yen one way.

Wednesday 6 July 2016

The Pilgrimage - Ise Grand Shrine (part 2)

This is part 2 of a post about a recent trip to Ise-shi in Mie prefecture.  Part 1 is definitely worth a read, and you can find it here!

Ise Jingu, or Ise Grand Shrine is considered one of Shinto's holiest and most important places and is a shrine complex consisting of 125 separate shrines, including the 2 main shrines, the Inner Shrine (Naiku) and the Outer Shrine (Geku).  The Inner Shrine was said to have been established in 3 AD and the goddess Amaterasu-Omikami, the goddess of the sun and the universe is enshrined there.  It is said that the Emperors of Japan are direct descendants of Amaterasu.  The Outer Shrine (Geku) was established 2 centuries later in late 5 AD and the goddess Toyouke-no-Omikami, the goddess of agriculture, rice harvest and industry is enshrined there.  Both of the 2 main Shrines are surrounded by 90 hectares of forest which have not been cut since the Shrines were established.  The inner courtyards of both shrines are completely off limits to the public, and not even the recent visiting G7 politicians were allowed inside.  Another interesting point about Ise Grand Shrine is that the Supreme Priestess outranks the Supreme Priest (which doesn't happen very much in Japan!) and is considered an intermediary between the gods and the worshippers.  She is usually a member of the royal family.  In the past, it was said that all people must make the pilgrimage to Ise Jingu at least once in their lives.  Because the shrine is considered a sanctuary, pilgrims making the journey to the shrine were never stopped and checked at security checkpoints along the way as it was considered sacrilegious  The 2 shrines and the bridge leading to Naiku are completely rebuilt every 20 years as part of the Shinto belief of the death and renewal of nature and symbolises the idea that nothing is permanent.  Day 2 of my trip was going to be my first contact with this most holy of Shinto sites.

Day 2 arrived and I dragged myself up out of bed (bed was a futon mattress on the floor, Japanese style, and very comfortable!).  After getting changed Atra and I headed off in search of food.  We walked for about 10 minutes before we saw a big beautiful building, with a souvenir shop on the 1st floor (or ground floor depending on where you are from) and a restaurant on the 2nd (or 1st) floor.

The menu was buffet so we set about plating up a feast.

Good thing the coffee was all you could drink too!!

Finishing breakfast we went back outside and across the road to begin our exploration of Ise Jingu, or Ise Grand Shrine.  We approached the forest of green in which Geku was hidden and approached the first shrine gate.

Off to the left was a seated area with a view out over a pond.

With a hunch that it was going to be peaceful and serene there, we wandered off in that direction, passing the purification pool of water (temizusha).

Here is where you are supposed to rinse both hands and your mouth before entering the sacred area of the shrine.

On the other side we arrived at the pond where people were just sitting down in silence enjoying the peace and tranquillity of the moment.

Green is such a serene colour for me and I always enjoy moments like these where I am surrounded by such a deep and rich green.  Coming from a very dry part of the world, growing up, I didn't have these moments very often.

Anxious to get to the main part of the shrine, we got up and moved on.  I mentioned earlier that the shrine buildings are rebuilt every 20 years.  Well, every 20 years they are rebuilt at a location right alongside where it stands and 20 years later it moves back to the old position again, and so on.  This next photo shows the current buildings and in the foreground, it shows the alternative site where the next shrine will be built in 2033.

This is as close a photo as I got as close-up photos of the shrine buildings themselves are prohibited.  While members of the public are not allowed to enter the inner part of the shrine, we were able to view it from outside its fenced compound, and that was an experience in itself that left a huge impression on me.  As I was standing there looking at the shrine buildings, taking in the grandeur and magnificence, but also the simplicity of them, and considering the fact that what was standing in front of me was one of the highest ranking buildings in the Shinto religion, a building that not even representatives of the recently held G7 summit were allowed to enter, I felt so small and insignificant.  It was a remarkable experience, and a moment that I will remember for a long time.

The rain was really starting to come down at this point, and being that we were without umbrellas, we bid Geku farewell and headed back out the way we had come in.  Spying a French inspired cafe as we exited the shrine grounds we made a beeline for the cafe to dry off and enjoy another coffee.

Having refuelled, we jumped on the bus at Geku and headed over to the Inner Shrine, Naiku which is located at the end of Oharai machi, the shopping street that I had gone to the previous night.  I wanted to have a wander up and down the street in daytime to get a different perspective on it.  Being that it was raining, there were not as many people out as there otherwise might have been.  Please enjoy these next photos of the shopping street in all of it's picturesque beauty.

Just an amazing streetscape!

Usually FamilyMart convenience stores have bright green, blue and white signs.  Not in Ise.  Plain brown coloured sign as to blend in and match it's surroundings.  Well done Ise!

If you read part 1, you might recognise these scenes!

Absolutely gorgeous.  I never get sick of these images of and places in Japan, and I will continue to search them out to put them on these pages.

It was starting to get late in the afternoon so we wandered down to the river running just along behind these buildings and started walking alone in the direction of the Inner Shrine, Naiku.  The river was also a beautiful scene with the deep green of the trees contrasted nicely by the overcast grey of the sky.

Before heading back to the hotel we decided to head over and have a look at the outer area of Naiku, without going all the way in, as that was for tomorrow.  I'm happy that we did as it was a lot quieter in the evening that it would prove to be the next day.

There was one final thing that I wanted to do before going back to the hotel so we walked back over to the shopping street.  One of the things that this area is famous for is Matsusaka beef and I wanted to sample it.  One thing that the Japanese do well is beef.  Now, it is quite an unhealthy meat with streaks of fat layered all throughout.  Looking into a piece of Japanese beef is like looking into a deep dark fog.  All you can see is white with an occasional glimpse of colour!  What all of that white means though is flavour, an intense beefy flavour unlike any you will try again.  Yes, Japanese beef is a sometimes food, but those sometimes moments are always sublime!

On that note, I will finish this post here.  Thank you, as always for reading.  Please leave a comment below and if you know someone who would enjoy reading, please feel free to share it with them!

Until next time, bye!