Ise Jingu 0

Iseshima is an area about two hours east of Osaka that attracts visitors year-round. Iseshima is well known for its seafood and pearl products, and has been designated a national park. Visitors can enjoy the natural beauty of Iseshima’s rugged coastline, visit small coastal villages and woman diver huts, and taste fresh locally-caught seafood. A theme park and an aquarium are also well-known attractions in the area, but the most visited spot by far is Ise Jingu Shrine.

Ise Jingu Shrine 

Ise Jingu Shrine is Japan’s most sacred shrine and is often referred to as “the heart of Japan.” The shrine itself is said to be a “power spot” and both Japanese and foreign tourists alike visit the large outdoor parks as a pilgrimage to rejuvenate and energize their spirits. Ise Jingu Shrine is split into two separate sections, Naiku (inner shrine)  and Geku (outer shrine). Each one is centered around a different god and each one hosts a wide array of smaller shrines for visitors to pray for prosperity, peace, luck and much more.

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I recently visited Ise Jingu Shrine while traveling through the Kansai area on the Kintetsu Railway, and found that, while the shrine was overcrowded with visitors, the area did have a certain underlying energy that was hard to ignore. The day before I had stayed at a minshuku (bed and breakfast) near Ugata Station [insert article hyperlink]. In the morning, I hopped on the Kintestu Shima Line bound for Nagoya and departed at Ugata Station.

Iseshi Station

Iseshi Station was surprisingly small for the number of tourists that must pass through it each day, but it looked well maintained and felt charming because of its size. Signs for Ise Jingu Shrine Geku are placed in easy to spot locations, and guests need only walk out the front entrance and straight down the boulevard to arrive at the first of Ise Jingu’s two locations.

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Ise Jingu Shrine Geku 

Ise Jingu Shrine Geku, also known as Toyouke Daijingu,is dedicated to the god Toyouke. This god is the guardian of cloth, food and shelter, and provides sacred food for the god Amaterasu (who Naiku is dedicated to and the god originally worshipped by the Imperial family). The pathways in Geku are lined with large cedar trees and smaller pathways branch off from the main path periodically, leading to smaller shrines which house various deities. Guests can pick up an English map at either the visitors center or any of the guard stations. If you want to pray to a particular god, or all of them, or just enjoy the natural beauty of a sunlight-dappled pathway, take a stroll through Ise Jingu Shrine Geku before hopping on a bus to Naiku.

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Naiku is Ise Jingu Shrine’s main attraction. Although the separate park is located a good distance away by foot, there is a bus stop conveniently located across the street from Ise Jinju Shrine Geku, which delivers guests directly at the doorstep of this second location. Signs are clearly posted and there are guides to explain which bus to take and how much to pay. A one-way ride to Naiku is 430 yen and takes about 15 minutes.

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Naiku is dedicated to the sun goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, who was originally worshipped in the Imperial Palace by the emperors of Japan. Even today, Imperial rituals are performed at the main shrine, and every 20 years the Amaterasu sanctuary is moved to a new location and rebuilt.

When visiting Naiku, the inner shrine, guests start their tour by crossing Uji Bridge, a traditional style bridge which crosses the length of the Isuzugawa River. Before stepping on the bridge guests must walk under the large torii gates that stand at either end of Uji Bridge, these torii are made from the wood used in former shrines to the goddess. Guests are purified as they cross the bridge and before entering the inner shrine area.

Walking along the pathway towards the shrine’s main building, guests can further purify themselves by stopping at the Isuzugawa River to wash their hands in its cleansing waters. From here the path leads to the steps of the shrine to Amaterasu Omikami. No photography is allowed inside this building.

Reflecting on Ise Jingu 

I don’t hold any special place in my heart for religion, but as far as religions go, Shintoism is one of the most attractive options in my opinion. The buildings may not be as gaudy, ornamental or colorful as their Buddhist counterparts, but the animistic nature of the religion has always appealed to me. The idea that anything could house a god and deserves worship is, in my mind, a beautiful concept. As I walked along the overcrowded pathways of Ise Jingu Shrine and watched the visitors around, I was reminded of this idea.

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Kintetsu Rail Pass 

If you are visiting Iseshi from Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto or Nara, it might be beneficial to buy the Kintetsu Rail Pass. The pass allows travelers unlimited rides on the Kintetsu Line as well as the Iga Testudo Line for five days. For more information on how to buy the pass, or how it works, check out Kintetsu’s website  here.

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RYANN OVERBAY 

Originally from Seattle and currently living in Japan for four years now, working as a writer and an English teacher. The Kansai area is one of my favorite places to visit in Japan because I think it offers so much to do and see. I especially love to get away from the crowds and visit places that are less traveled. I hope my experience will let you get a feel for the country and the unique mixture of traditional and modern culture !