Monday, January 11, 2016

Japan Solo // Ise:Japan's Most Sacred Shinto Shrines

When I visited Japan in the summer with my friend the Ise shrines were originally on the itinerary but got edited out. Since my Kintetsu pass included Ise station I thought, "why not?" The shrines are about a 10-15 minute walk from the Kintetsu Ise-shi station. Clearly marked signs will point you in the right direction and there is a very helpful tourist office in the station too. 
Outer shrine main road
I arrived at the outer shrine main road (shown above) in time for a late lunch, so first order of Ise was to find food! I ducked into a nearby Japanese eatery that seemed local and cheap. I ordered the special on impulse because frankly I couldn't comprehend the Kanji explaining the ingredients of the dish. What came out definitely surprised me: foamy Nagaimo udon noodles!
I didn't even know it was possible to cook nagaimo into a froth, so this was a big surprise to my taste buds. The viscosity of nagaimo paired with the slipperiness of the udon, raw egg, and soy sauce was refreshingly tasty! But I will never understand the Japanese obsession with raw eggs over cooked food, no matter how high quality the egg is. 
The Ise Shrines are broken up into inner (naiku) and outer (geku) shrines. It is two different shrines in two different locations. What makes these shrines so popular is how they are torn down and rebuilt every 20 years. The last rebuild was in 2013. I visited the outer shrine first (shown above).
Before passing through the pillars it is customary to bow to show respect, which you also do when leaving. So far it's seeming mightily similar to the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, also a Shinto shrine.
Along the way towards the sacred shrine I passed this sight of Japanese people gathering around a blocked off circle of stones with their hands stuck out. Didn't quite understand why they were doing this. If anyone knows please tell me! 
And this is the most sacred part of the shrine that we came to Ise to see. Pictures were not allowed past this point. It's probably the simplest religious site I've seen in terms of aesthetics. You're also blocked off from getting near any of it. What a great way to put me in my place as a mortal lol.
The shrines cover pretty expansive grounds full of gravel and trees. There are also other smaller shrines to give your offerings to. It's a nice walk, but not exactly a quiet pilgrimage as you are surrounded by many families with children running around.

Next I took a bus to the inner shrine. It's about a 15 minute bus ride depending on traffic, so I would not recommend walking unless you have strong legs and lots of time on your hands.
A familiar sight by now, except this one marks the beginning of a bridge that leads to the grounds of the inner shrine. The inner shrine was very similar to the outer shrine, and by this time it was a race against the sun, so I rushed through a lot of it.
Outside the inner shrines is Oharaimachi, a street of shops housed in traditional buildings. Allot enough time to wander around these streets because it's the most fun part of visiting the shrines. Shops on the main street are mostly closed by sunset, but the shops in the alleys are open later.
I wasn't expecting to spend so much time at the Ise Shrines and Oharaimachi. Unfortunately that meant I didn't make it to Meoto Iwa or the Mikimoto Pearl Island. Guess will have to save that for next time I visit! 

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