Japan City Guides: Ise Shima - Ise Jingu, Toba
Ise Shima - Ise Shrine 伊勢志摩
Ise Jingu in Mie Prefecture is Japan's most sacred shrine dating back to the 3rd century.
Ise Shrine actually consists of two shrines: Geku and Naiku. Geku, which dates from the 5th century enshrines the Shinto goddess of clothing, food and housing - Toyouke Omikami. Naiku, which is two hundred years older, enshrines Amaterasu-Omikami, the sun goddess, the guardian of the nation and the protector of the Imperial family.
Both shrine precincts are set in ancient forests of giant cryptomeria trees (sugi), with lakes, ponds and large stones much in evidence.
The wooden buildings of the shrines are rebuilt every 20 years and re-consecrated in solemn nocturnal ceremonies. The next rebuilding project is set for 2013. The wood is presently brought from the Kiso Valley in Nagano Prefecture, though a replanting project is underway in the forests around the shrines, so that one day the timber can once again be supplied locally.
Naiku houses the sacred mirror of the Emperor, one of the three pieces of regalia of the Japanese Imperial family, the others being sacred jewels in the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and a sacred sword in Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya.
The Naiku & Geku Shrines at Ise, Mie prefecture, Japan
Ama pearl diver and the Mikimoto Pearl Museum, Toba
Both the Geku and Naiku Shrines and their grounds are free to enter between sunrise and sunset. There is a free English language guide to both sites available at both shrines. Performances of dance and music are often performed at the shrine office building in the Naiku.
The main access to the Naiku takes the visitor along the Oharaimachi, a modern reconstruction of an Edo merchants' quarter with some good places to eat and drink.
Besides Ise Jingu, Ise town offers an area of traditional Japanese merchant houses in Kawasaki Kaiwai, a 15-20 minute walk from Ise Station.
Many of the buildings have been taken over by NPOs to showcase local industries and crafts and there are some atmospheric places to eat in the area or stroll on the canal bank.
A taxi to the area from the station will cost around 600 or 700 yen. There is a local weekend produce market on the street leading from Ise Station to Geku Shrine. Local delicacies in Ise include lobster (Ise-ebi), noodles, (Ise-udon) and the sweet dessert akafuku, a rice cake with red bean jam.
Tourist boat and the islet-studded bay, Toba, Mie Prefecture, Japan
Ise is easily reached by Kintetsu Railway from Osaka (2 hours from Namba), Nagoya (1 hour, 20 mins by tokkyu) and Kyoto (2 hours, 10 mins). It is possible to take a JR train from both Osaka and Kyoto to Ise but the journey involves multiple changes.
Geku is a short walk straight ahead from Ise Station. Take buses #51 or #55 from either Ise Station or from outside the entrance of Geku to Naiku (about 30 mins).
Oya Taxis Tel: 0596 36 0012
Toba, though a very commercialized resort, unfairly gets a bit of a bad rap in certain Japan guide books but is a pleasant and interesting place to unwind in winter or summer.
Toba's main claim to fame is as the birthplace of the cultured pearl industry. In 1893 Mikimoto Kokichi (1858-1954) produced the world's first cultured pearl. Later he opened a shop in Ginza, Tokyo and the Mikimoto brand spread worldwide. Mikimoto's life and work is celebrated on Mikimoto Pearl Island (Tel: 0599 25 2028; Admission 1,500 yen), where you can see a statue of the great man, a pearl museum, the Kokichi Mikimoto Memorial Hall, women pearl divers (ama) in action and an exquisite collection of pearl jewelry including elaborate crowns and necklaces.
Toba's other attractions include the The Toba Sea Folk Museum (0599 32 6006), which chronicles the history of the women pearl divers and the museum's 50,000 exhibits include an historic tuna fishing boat. Toba Aquarium (0599 25 2555) has a coral reef gallery, and sea mammal shows with dolphins, a dugong and a sea turtle presently on show.
There are a number of sea cruises available in the bay off Ise. There's a steamship sailing to Dolphin Island (0599 25 3177) with more dolphin shows and an observatory. There are also longer cruises around the numerous picturesque islands dotted around Ise Bay including Sakatejima, Sugashima, Toushijima and Kamishima. Sugashima has Japan's oldest brick lighthouse and Kamishima is the scene of Yukio Mishima's novel the The Sound of Waves, which details the love of a young man, Shinji for a pearl diver, Hatsue. All the islands have excellent seaviews of the bay.
Toba is a seafood paradise with a number of excellent restaurants. Just near the station on the inland side are a number of small places that grill various shellfish over a charcoal stove - excellent with a refreshing beer.
South down the coast from Toba is Ago-wan, which is now the main growing area for cultured pearls and a beautiful stretch of coastline with numerous inlets and tiny islets. The Kintetsu Line terminus is here at Kashikojima, which is around 55 minutes from Ise. There are a ferries from Kashikojima to the small fishing village and beach at Goza as well as Wagu to the east or choose from a number of vessels to cruise the bay.
Panorama of Toba Bay, Mie Prefecture
There is a ferry across Ise Bay to Tokoname on the Chita Peninsula for Chubu International Airport (100 mins) with train connections to Nagoya and also a crossing to Irako on the Atsumi Peninsula in Aichi Prefecture (55 mins). See the Isewan Ferry Company for more details (Tel: 0599 26 3335). Buses cross the scenic Ise-Shima Skyline road between Ise and Toba.
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