Slightly off the beaten path in the Chubu Region of Japan lies the most sacred of all the shrines in Japan: Ise Jingu. This shrine honors the most important goddess in all of the Shinto religion, Amaterasu, also known as the Sun Goddess. Known for its incredibly simple beauty, the shrine is rebuilt every 20 years, keeping in accordance with ancient Shinto traditions.
In the surrounding area lies an incredible amount of touristically important Japanese attractions, including Meota Iwa, or the sacred rocks linked by a rope, the samurai-themed Edo Wonderland theme park, and the Mikimoto Pearl Company headquarters and harvesting area. When planning a trip to Japan with an emphasis on the traditional cultures and traditions, Ise Jingu and the entire Shima Peninsula are a must visit.
Located only about a two hours’ train ride from my home in Nagoya, this is a day trip that I plan to take very soon. The city of Ise itself can be easily reached from Tokyo and Osaka, but especially Nagoya. The Shinkansen, bullet train, links Tokyo and Osaka to Nagoya, and from Nagoya Station both Japan Railways (JR) and the privately owned Kintetsu Railway Company run trains of all speeds to the cities of Ise, Futaminoura, and Toba where all of the main tourist attractions are located for around $30 US each way. Although this may seem steep, the attractions of the Shima Peninsula are worth every penny.
A trip to the Shima Peninsula is easiest to begin in the city of Ise. From the station to the entrance to the Inner Ise Jingu (it is split in two halves) lies Ohairimachi. Ohairimachi is the ancient approach street to the Ise Inner Shrine. For over one kilometer, the street is lined with traditional buildings, which include several shops and restaurants. For literally centuries these same businesses have been serving pilgrims to Ise Jingu. While on Ohairimachi, be sure to pick up some akafuku, a local Japanese sweet made from moshi rice paste and red bean paste, as well as Ise Udon, which includes thick udon noodles and a thicker than usual sauce.
Once at the Inner Ise Shrine, be sure to take in as much natural beauty as possible. The shrine itself is dedicated to Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, and most holy being in the Shinto religion of Japan. The shrine is notable because the building consists of strictly Japanese architectural elements, unlike most temples, which include a strong Chinese or Korean influence. This is the shrine of the Japanese Imperial Family. What this means is that, from the founding of the shrine nearly a thousand years ago, the high priest and priestess must be members of the Imperial Family, as they are the only ones said to be trusted with watching over the shrine. The outer shrine is equally as beautiful, but is located several kilometers away.
Overall, the Shima Peninsula is absolutely worth a day trip during your next visit to Japan.