If you are planning a trip to Mie Prefecture, be sure to stop off at Ise Grand Shrine, the holiest Shinto shrine in Japan. Also of note is the second largest amusement park, with only Tokyo Disneyland beating it on size, and streets capturing the essence of Edo Japan. Here are five sightseeing attractions for your perfect trip to Mie:
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Since ancient times, Meotoiwa has been a sacred place worshiping the sunrise. The holy rock of Okitama Jinseki is enshrined 700m offshore which is said to have been visited by the gods from Heaven. The heavy rice straw rope which binds the 9m male rock and the 4m female rock is replaced three times a year. And annually, on May 5th, September 5th and in mid-December, there is a religious ritual held with the rope. Meotoiwa is famous as a site to see the sunrise, and between May and July, the rising sun can be seen between the two rocks. At around the summer solstice on a good day, you can also view the sunrise with Mt. Fuji in the background which brings a lot of visitors. Also during the winter solstice, you can also see the rise of the moon between the rocks.
Near Meotoiwa is Futami Okitama Shrine. The enshrined deity of Sarutahiko-no-okami is worshiped there, and the shrine is said to bring good fortune in terms of matchmaking, a successful marriage and traffic safety. The divine messenger for Sarutahiko-no-okami, who is also known as the god of guidance, is the frog. On the grounds of the shrine, there are countless numbers of stone statues of frogs which bestow good fortune on visitors after they pay their respects and offer thanks to the god. Many of the products conferred by the shrine have a frog motif.
Long ago, before pilgrimages to Ise Jingu or the holding of festivals, it was customary to hold a purification ceremony at Futamiura which was known as a pure beach. Currently, this ceremony is called Hamasangu and at Futami Okitama Shrine, undergoing purification is a common phenomenon. The harvested amamo or marine grass near Okitama Jinseki is purified as sun-dried “lucky grass” or mukushiokusa. Even now, participants in the special ceremony of transferring the object of worship from an old shrine to a new shrine which takes place only once in 20 years undergo Hamasangu. How about visiting Futami Okitama Shrine to take part in this ancient custom before visiting Ise Jingu?
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Meotoiwa
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Meotoiwa
- Tours of Meotoiwa
Ise Jingu Geku
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Among all of the shrines in Japan, Ise Jingu is the cream of the crop. Within this grand shrine, there are 2 main shrines: Naiku (Kotaijingu) which enshrines Amaterasu-omikami, the tutelary god for the Japanese people, and Geku (Toyouke Daijingu) which enshrines Toyouke-no-omikami, the tutelary god for the basic necessities of life. In October 2013, the process of building a new shrine and transferring the enshrined object to that site that takes place once every 20 years was completed, and all of the shrine buildings and torii gates have been newly reconstructed. When making the pilgrimage at Ise Jingu, it’s customary to start from Geku and then move to Naiku, a custom that has been in place since the ancient times. There is some distance between the two main shrines, but transportation by bus is possible.
Toyouke-no-omikami who is enshrined at Geku is the guardian deity of industry that provides the blessings of the necessities of life. Her story began about 1500 years ago when she was called upon to offer food to Amaterasu-no-omikami as the Miketsu-kami at Yamada-no-Hara near Naiku. Once you purify yourself by washing your hands and rinsing your mouth, pay your respects at the Shogu where Toyouke-no-omikami is enshrined. At the Mike-den at the back of the Shogu, a ceremony is held twice a day in the morning and at noon to offer meals to Amaterasu-no-omikami. This ritual has continued unabated for over a thousand years since the enshrinement of Toyouke-no-omikami.
After visiting the Shogu, you will also want to visit the four other associate shrines at Geku. Once you cross the Kameishi which spans over the pond in front of the Shogu, the Tsuchi-no-Miya which enshrines the god of land is on your right while on your left is the Kaze-no-Miya with the god of wind. And up ahead is Taga-no-Miya. This shrine, located at the top of 98 stone steps and which enshrines the Aramitama of Toyouke-no-omikami is a prestigious structure for the Shogu. If you have the time, there is also the Tsukimi-no-Miya, a 10-minute walk north of Geku. At this associate shrine, the brother of Amaterasu-no-kami is enshrined as the god of the moon who presides over the night.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Ise Jingu Geku
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Ise Jingu Geku
- Tours of Ise Jingu Geku
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Okage Yokocho is located in one part of Oharai-machi. Transferred and recreated buildings that represent the Ise-ji Route from the Edo Era to the Meiji Era are all lined up, and the streets have that distinct character. Within its approximately 13,200 sq. meters, there are about 50 food stores and souvenir shops that can only be found in Ise-Shima where you can get a taste of the liveliness of touring Ise Jingu and the activity of the Edo Era.
The food and shopping go without saying, but experiencing the traditional culture of Ise is also one of Okage Yokocho’s attractions. There is a variety of workshops available throughout the year where you can create things according to the season such as candles and bonsai. Also, Okage-za Shinwa (Mythology) no Kan is a facility where you can experience the world of mythology through videos and Japanese paper dolls. At the Shinwa Theater, the essence of Japanese mythology is introduced in an easy-to-understand way on a large screen through media including animation. At Shinwa-no-Mori which is a domed space with the image of a primeval forest, 6 famous scenes from Japanese mythology are displayed through Japanese paper dolls. It lasts about 30 minutes, and you can enjoy with your eyes the world of living mythology.
When it comes to a famous product of Ise, one has to say Akafuku Mochi. The main shop for Akafuku Mochi is close to the entrance of Okage Yokocho, and there are always a lot of people there. In the open-air interior, freshly-made Akafuku rice cakes can be enjoyed together with bancha and matcha tea. Once a month in the early morning in Ise, there is a custom for visiting Ise Jingu known as Tsuitachi Mairi. At the main shop of Akafuku Mochi, on the first day of each month (except New Year’s Day), confections which change according to the season known as Tsuitachi Mochi are sold in limited quantities. To obtain these Tsuitachi Mochi, a lot of folks line up early on the 1st. This is also a common sight at Okage Yokocho.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 300 / Child: ¥ 100
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Okage Yokocho
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Okage Yokocho
- Tours of Okage Yokocho
Ise Jingu Naiku
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Naiku enshrines Amaterasu-omikami, the progenitor of the Imperial Household and the tutelary god of the Japanese people. The object of worship is the Yata-no-Kagami (Sacred Mirror), and along with the Yasakani-no-Magatama (Jewel) and the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (Sword), they are collectively called The Three Sacred Treasures. Within Naiku, there is the Shogu which enshrines Amaterasu-omikami, plus 2 associate shrines and 10 administrative shrines. The process of building a new shrine and then transferring the enshrined object there, a ritual that has gone on for 1300 years at a rate of once every 20 years, was completed in October 2013, and all of the main shrine buildings have been newly reconstructed. Ise Jingu has the two major shrines of Naiku and Geku (Toyouke Daijingu) which enshrines Toyouke-no-omikami. When visiting both shrines, it is customary to first begin from Geku.
Along the path to the shrine, there is the usual well for ablution to wash your hands and rinse your mouth, but doing the same at the site of the Isuzu River within Naiku is the original custom. After purifying yourself with the pristine waters of the river, head for the Shogu. At the top of the stone steps, there is the Gojoden surrounded by five fences where the enshrined deity of Amaterasu-omikami is placed. The area above the stone steps is holy ground in which taking of photographs is prohibited. Originally, Ise Jingu was the site to pray for the well-being of the nation. Instead of simply making individual prayers, you will want to visit with a relaxed feeling of daily gratitude.
The prestigious Aramatsuri-no-Miya is the leading shrine of 10 subordinate shrines within Naiku. In contrast with the Nigimitama that has the kind and peaceful profile of Amaterasu-omikami enshrined at the main shrine, Aramatsuri-no-Miya has the more energetic Aramitama. Compared with the Shogu, the number of visitors here is smaller, but it is a valuable site where you can directly face the main shrine. For that reason, there are many people who mainly go to Aramatsuri-no-Miya just so that they can receive strong feelings of power. In addition, there are the other minor shrines within the grounds such as Kazahinomi-no-Miya which enshrines the god of rain and wind and Koyasu Shrine which provides good fortune for safe childbirth and children. You will also want to take full advantage of the deep forest which surrounds the shrines.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Ise Jingu Naiku
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Ise Jingu Naiku
- Tours of Ise Jingu Naiku
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Nagashima Resort also has the popular Nagashima Spa Land. Second only to Tokyo Disneyland in size, the secret to Nagashima Resort’s popularity may be its abundance of thrill rides. The 10 roller coasters there may be well known even among overseas roller coaster fans. The 2479m Steel Dragon 2000 is the longest roller coaster according to the Guinness Book of World Records, and for a while, it also had the record for speed and drop as well. The world’s largest wooden roller coaster White Cyclone is also famous. Naturally, besides the coasters, there is also the world’s largest pendulum machine, Giant Frisbee, along with other spinning and dropping rides lined up. Of course, there are also attractions for small kids to enjoy such as amusement park fixtures like a haunted house and a Ferris wheel. On top of that, also popular with the children is the Nagoya Anpanman Kids’ Museum & Park where they can meet Anpanman, and in summer, there is the Jumbo Ocean Pool, so it is an amusement park which can be enjoyed by the whole family.
Yuami-no-Shima is an adjacent onsen theme park at Nagashima Spa Land. The largest onsen theme park in Japan, you can enjoy up to 16 natural hot springs. Starting from the gorgeous open-air baths such as the Oirase Keiryu-no-Yu which recreates the natural environment of the Oirase mountain stream in the Tohoku region and the Kurobe Kyokoku-no-Yu, this is a completely equipped multi-purpose facility with a relaxation room where you can rest and watch a movie, massage treatments, and restaurants. Following your enjoyment of Nagashima Spa Land and the neighboring outlet mall, enjoy soaking in an onsen. The adjacent Nabana-no-Sato is a botanical garden famous for the beauty of its illumination. In spring, flowers like tulips and dahlias bloom all over. In winter, the LED light display is extremely popular with the tourists. There is also a hotel at Nagashima Resort so it’s recommended for an overnight stay.