Iseji Japan 2019

Day 11: Ise

Today was tourist day. Whilst it’s fine being alone when walking, being a tourist is more fun when you have somebody to share it with. But it has been an interesting day in bright sunshine. The motive on man hole cover symbolises my first stop today.

I was up at seven to be in plenty of time for the days first activity that was due to start at 10. But then the trains times got the better of me, and I anyway had to wait an hour for the train, which I spent in the beautiful sunshine we have had here today, and watching the many people arriving to see Ise’s biggest attraction, Ise Grand Shrine, which is in fact 150 shrines spread over the region – and the two holiest in Ise itself. But for me, that was later in the day.

My first destination was Meotoiwa, Japan’s most tied up couple. They are two rocks that tied together with a large rope (in fact four ropes I learnt today), called shimenawa.


Three times a year the rope is changed via a ceremony held This ritual is held on May 5, September 5, and in the middle of December. The rocks and rope together act as the Torii bate of the close by Futami Okitama shirne. Local parishioners climb the two rocks and the four ropes are passed from hand to hand by the many who, at least today, turned up to see the ceremony.

I arrived at exactly 10 o’clock, and old rope had been removed. At 10.30 the process to tie the rope around the two rocks started, when the first of the four ropes was passed from hand to hand, as though it was a snake. Once all four were up, the ropes had to aligned so they looked like it was only a single rope. Once everything was OK, Sake was poured over the rope.

It was an interesting experience, and I am happy I saw it.

It was all done within the hour, something that is not completely without risk for the men setting up the rope.

Next up was Ise Grand Shrine. Ise Grand Shrine is Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine and dates back to the 3rd Century. It is considered to be the spiritual home of the Japanese and its national religion Shinto, and attracts ca. 6 million visits per year – most of which were there today.

The two main shrines are Naiku (inner shrine) and Geku (outer shrine), that are situated ca. 5 km apart. I planned to visit Naiku first, and as luck would have it, there was a bus that stopping close by Futami Okitama shrine to Naiku via Castle World (an amusement park based on Japanese medieval castles) and Sun Arena, a large indoors sports complex and arena.

Naiku is built in a large park complex with a river running through and which you have to cross on the Ujibashi (bridge), where one passes from the secular to the sacred world. The main sanctuary is very simple, and Amaterasu Omikami, the ancestral deity of the Imperial family is enshrined here. Only very few high priests and Imperial family can access the innermost part of the shrine.

The vast majority of pilgrims prey at the outermost fence, however some people, in their very finest dress, were allowed inside the outer fence.

Outside the temple is Ohari-machi, a street 800m long with places to eat, drink and buy souvenirs. The house were kept in an old fashioned style. If I thought that the shrine was packed, this was even worse.

The Iseji trail I will be following starts at this shrine and passes through Geku, so decided to walk these 6kms, to warm up for the Iseji route. I passed another shrine that was also packed with people and a ceremony of small children dressed as Shinto priests and also here there were long queues to pay 300 yen for the stamp of the shrine.

I also passed a temple that was empty. It certainly looks like Shintoism is predominant, at least here.

Guku shrine is also situated in a park, and is equally as simple, architecturally, as Naiku. There were also many people, but not as packed as Naiku.

As a matter of interest, the two main shrines and the bridge are rebuilt every twenty years. Next to each existing sanctuary building at Naiku and Geku there is a vacant alternative site where the next rebuilding takes place. These two sites are used alternately in each Sengu ceremonial cycle, where first new shrine is built, the treasures moved and the old shrine removed.

One is not allowed to take pictures in the main sanctuary of at least these shrines, this the lack of pictures. Geku is close to my hotel, so after finding an ATM I went back for a hot bath, before going out again for dinner, this time fried oysters – the surrounding waters are famous for pearls and oysters and another shell fish, as sahimi.

With 6km, I got the Kumano Kodo Iseji walk off to a start. I am looking forward to this walk as I hope it will be more varied with countryside, villages and forrest, instead of only forrest, which was the case for the past 9 days. We’ll see.

I walked 17km in total, and only ca. 40m ascent and descent.

Ise was well worth a visit, but as with most Japanese towns and cities, when you’ve seen the sites, there isn’t much left to see. On a final note, almost all houses I passed had the above, hanging over the entrance.

2 Comments Add New Comment

  1. Neil says:

    To be close to nature is to be close to God….!
    Hope you get to see some views other than the trees….!
    Years back I walked in the Ardennes….never saw a person during my walking ,only seemingly endless forest….
    Hope those legs hold out…

    1. Steven Bloom says:

      Thanks for the encouragement, today there’s been a lot more variation, and now I remember why I loved Shikoku!

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