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.
Okage Yokocho: Pilgrimage Path Near Ise Jingu
This famous pilgrimage street is named Okage, meaning “thankful” or “indebted” in English, because of the sense of gratitude felt by those who visited and liveed in this small, but charming area of Japan. Today, the street is bordered on either side by houses and shop fronts built with traditional dark wood paneling. These crowded storefronts offer items ranging from food and produce to souvenirs and charms for visitors.
Okage Yokocho was originally built to welcome visitors making the long pilgrimage to Ise Jingu with open arms. The journey to Ise Jingu was oftentimes harrowing and difficult for pilgrims, but the people of Ise believed that by honoring these brave travelers they were also honoring their gods.
The crowded streets of Okage Yokocho create a bustling atmosphere and today local shop owners continue to be friendly and inviting. I didn’t get a chance to peruse the shops as much as I would’ve liked, but I did stop to try Ise’s famous akafuku confectionary from a local shop on the corner of Okage Yokocho.
Akafuku: Traditional Mochi and Red Bean Sweets
Akafuku was originally made 300 years ago to welcome pilgrims making their way to Ise Jingu. The small rice cakes are covered in red bean powder and filled with a red bean paste, and were traditionally served at teahouses in the area. The shape of the rice cake is slightly wavy, which is meant to represent the Isuzu River, which flows next to the large shrine and parallel to the marketplace. A small box of two mochi costs about 300 yen. I recommend you stop by to try these traditional sweets. I enjoyed the light taste and the small wooden spatula provided with my sweets.
Kawasaki Old Town: The Remnants of Water Transportation in Iseshi
After leaving Okage Yokocho I caught the bus back to Iseshi Station and walked 15 minutes or so to Kawasaki, another old-town area of Iseshi.
Kawasaki is known historically as “The Kitchen of Ise,” because it catered to the many pilgrims who passed through on their way to the nearby shrines. The area was built up around the nearby Setagawa River and used canals and the river to transport goods by water. The area has some unique museums, and traditional architecture. Although the streets were once known for their waterways, they have all been paved or built over, except for one very small section behind some refurbished Ogawa sake storehouses.
The path twists through some alleyways and follows the river for a while. The houses lining the path are interesting to look at, but I wish more of the canal had been maintained, as the preserved area wasn’t worth seeing on its own. I still enjoyed getting away from the more crowded areas of the town and seeing some of the less visited areas of Iseshi. If you feel in the mood for a stroll through a more authentic part of town—or are just looking to stretch your legs—take a walk to Kawasaki and enjoy the traditional atmosphere.
Reflection of Iseshi
All in all, my trip to Iseshi was lovely. I enjoyed the rural atmosphere of the area and the chance to escape the larger crowds in Osaka and Kyoto. While Iseshi still draws its own tourists, it maintains its small town feel; a welcome change of pace. If you are visiting Kyoto or Osaka, consider taking a couple days and making the brief journey to the Ise Peninsula? Take the opportunity to get a feel for the Japanese countryside. It might provide you with an entirely different perspective on the country.
Kintetsu Rail Pass
If you are visiting Ise 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 .