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.
It’s finally the middle of autumn here in Japan. The leaves are bright orange, yellow, and red and it’s absolutely gorgeous. This is my first real autumn and so many times, I find myself just staring at the trees. I’m from Southern California, where my street is lined with palm trees. The weather is sunny and warm and I only wore peacoats at night. Here, I wear three layers of shirts/knits, plus a scarf, jacket, and mittens on my bike ride to work. Waaaayyy different than what I’m used to, but I love it. I especially love feeling the warm sun against the autumn chill. It’s refreshing and gives me a little reminder of how beautiful and great life is. There are still times when I wake up in the morning and I think to myself, “I’m really living my dream. I’m really in Japan.” Even after four months, I’m still in awe of how I have the opportunities to do the things I dreamed about throughout college.
Over the weekend, I ate lunch with my coworker and she took me on a spontaneous autumn leaf viewing. I was beyond excited, because I hadn’t had the chance to go. Unfortunately, since it was spontaneous, I didn’t have my camera with me, so I took pictures with my tiny phone. We visited Kisara Mine, a mountain nearby where I live, which is surrounded by green tea fields. The green tea fields against the backdrop of the mountains were already gorgeous in itself. As we were walking along the tree lined path, I kept saying “きれい。。。きれい” (kirei – beautiful), as was everyone around us. It truly was kirei. I’m so excited for next year and really hope to make the most out of autumn by visiting different areas for leaf viewing. I feel like I have so many years of leaf viewing to catch up on and now I know why so many people love autumn. It was already my favorite season to begin with, but with this added beauty, I love it even more.
In the past week, I played taiko at a festival where they were making fresh mochi. I was able to experience pounding the mochi (the mallet is so heavy!) and watch as the rice became mochi. After we performed, we were given these four different types: red bean, kinako (soybean flour with sugar), Japanese spinach, and daikon. My favorite is kinako, since I prefer mochi to be sweet and I love the powdery taste. It was my first time trying these different flavors, especially the spinach and daikon ones. I’ve never seen mochi as a savory snack before until we were given these plates. I must admit though, my second favorite was the spinach mochi. Bring on more mochi! (I did get to make mochi at one of my schools a few days later. I was in mochi heaven.)
This is one of my favorite things that I’ve been apart of since I’ve been here in Japan. This is the Souhei Matsuri: a festival put on by my town to bless the businesses in our mountain’s resort area. I was asked if I wanted to carry the women’s shrine for the festival and I reluctantly said yes. Did I really want to carry a heavy shrine, up the mountain, for who knows how long? Even up until the hours before the festival, I was thinking about how I’d rather just watch, but I’m so glad that I wasn’t a bystander. This was such an amazing experience and I would definitely be apart of it next year if I have the chance. Even as I write this post, I’m still so happy about everything about this festival.
We got dressed into the festival, shine carrying outfits. I love how they tied the bow because it made me feel like a butterfly princess. It was really cute. After we were dressed, we were driven to the starting point of the shrine route. Underneath a shrine, we were blessed by a monk, before starting our journey back to the main festival area.
Then we were off! We stopped in front of various businesses, giving them our blessings. We were also given a few rest stops and free food (gotta love the free food!) to help us with our energy.
I overhead my co-worker say that we walked about 2km (about a mile) with the shrine, up and down hills, then back up to the main area. That’s a long way, but thankfully, it didn’t feel as far, with the little breaks we had. Throughout the whole time, I felt like a celebrity because so many people were watching us and taking pictures. It was so much fun and there’s no way I would ever have the opportunity to do something like this back at home. Sometimes you need to take that leap outside your comfort zone and do things you never thought about doing, because they may just be a once in a lifetime experience.
The most exciting part about this festival is the men’s shrine. Near the end of the shrine route, they light it on fire and by the time they make it to the end, the whole thing is in flames. It was such an amazing sight and was giddy like a little kid, because it was so exciting. I am happy that ours isn’t on fire though, because that would have been… hot…
I’m still in awe that I was able to make it through the entire festival carrying a heavy shrine on my shoulder, but it was a lot of fun and I was able to bond with some of the ladies on the JET Program. I’ve learned my lesson about volunteering for events: just do it (isn’t that a slogan for something… Nike?). No, seriously though, just do it. You may never know what amazing stories you’ll have to tell after the fact. Don’t let a mountain and a heavy shrine keep you from having a once in a lifetime experience, because these are the moments you live for in life (I’m trying to pep talk myself and whoever else wants a pep talk at the same time… so I’m not sure how that’s working out…).
This is my life. This is my life in Japan and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.