Ise Jingu is Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine and it is located in my home prefecture, Mie. The majority of Mie is countryside with its biggest industries being fishing and agriculture. It is really exciting (and a bit confusing) to know that the holiest shrine in all of Japan is within an hour of where I live. This shrine is a bit out of the way from Kyoto and Tokyo for those who were making the pilgrimage in between those two cities.
My friend and I had planned this day trip a few months in advance and the day we picked happened to be the day after Japan’s largest snowstorm in a very long time (I’ve heard 10 years and 100 years… I’m not sure which one is correct. Then a few weeks later, we had an even bigger snow storm…). Parts of the shrines were closed off due to the snow, so we weren’t able to explore the entire grounds. It may not look like a lot of snow, but this prefecture usually doesn’t see that much snow. I think people were confused on what to do…
If you want to be more “traditional,” you should start from the Outer Shrine (Geku) and walk to the Inner Shrine (Naiku), as part of the pilgrimage experience. But if you’re like us and many other people, you can take a bus in between the two shrines. We started at the outer shrine, which was closed when we got there since they were clearing snow from the path. We decided to eat lunch while we were waiting and went to a soba restaurant.
Geku is dedicated to Toyouke, the goddess of food, clothing, and housing. Cameras aren’t allowed in the main shrine area, but you can catch a glimpse of the torii (gate) leading to the shrine itself, through the white curtain. Unfortunately, due to the snow, people weren’t allowed to walk through the torii and into the shrine.
Like the outer shrine, you are unable to take pictures of the shrine itself, but it was simple, yet beautiful. I learned that these two shrines are purely Japanese architecture, built from no outside influence, showing the Japanese style of simplicity and serenity.
Right next to the inner shrine is, Oharaimachi, a road of traditional buildings with many stores and restaurants. We loved walking around here looking at all the food and souvenirs.
I would recommend Ise Jingu to anyone is in the area, since it’s an important landmark in Japanese history and Shintoism. Unfortunately, it’s a little out of the way for travelers who hit up the major cities and attractions. For being the most sacred shrine in Japan, it’s not well known. I didn’t know about this shrine until I emailed one of my professors (who did a lot of research in Japan) and he told me about it.
The outer shrine is located, in Ise, Mie Prefecture, about a 5-10 minute walk from Ise-shi Station, on the JR and Kintetsu Lines. It is free to enter the shrines.