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!


  1. Hello again Jason,nice to see Naiku again..did not get to Geku.I still remember how much I enjoyed this every day spent in Nihon.Tried my hand at pounding rice the old fashioned way much to the delight of many onlookers.The day I went the streets were packed, and there was a matsuri atmosphere.Mt.Lofty did get a light falling of snow 2 nights ago...and the heaviest rainfall for 75 years on a day in July...we received 50mm in Bellevue Hts.This coming week we are expecting showers almost every day and icy cold nights.We still do not know who has won the election.There is a slight possibility the LNP will scrape in it...but most likely,there will be a hung parliament,with the LNP requiring a couple of Independents to be on their side.We are unlikely to know the final result for about another week,so they say.No doubt you will read much about this in the Japanese Media/Press.Time to watch some tennis now..all the best...Noel.

    1. Hi Noel,
      there'll be some more of Naiku coming in the next post.
      Now, I haven't even tried pounding rice! I can imagine you pulled quite an audience. I have seen it being done at the Kodomo no Hi festival put on by the Japan Australia Friendship Association every year. Looks like good exercise!
      It sounds like the weather is truly making up for the last few years! The country areas will be definitely thanful for the rain. Have been following the election results. Was sad to hear that One Nation have risen their ugly head again. Hopefully the Coalition will not be considering working with them.
      The first typhoon of the season is heading in Japan's general direction. It will probably miss the mainland, but Okinawa and Taiwan will probably cop it.
      Take care,