The town of Ise, in Mie Prefecture to the east of Osaka, is home to what may be the most revered Shinto shrine in Japan. Ise Jingu.
Ise Jingu’s prominence is wrapped up in the fact that the main sanctuary, called Kotaijingu, is where Amaterasu Omikami, the ancestral kami of Japan’s imperial family, is enshrined.
Meg and I (and our pal Javier from Spain) recently spent a day in Ise — first, roaming the grounds of Ise’s inner shrine, Naiku, including an adjacent grove of epic-sized trees, and then at Naiku’s sister site, six kilometers away, the outer shrine of Geku.
Naiku especially is mind-boggling in size and scope. Surrounded by forest and river, and containing the mysterious and monumental main sanctuary (mysterious because only the Emperor and his family, and just a handful of priests, are allowed inside, no photos allowed, limited viewing perch), Naiku is well-loved by visitors who flock there by the millions (eight million visitor/pilgrims in the past year).
The trees at Naiku, many old and misshapen, are especially beautiful, which might be one of the reasons it became a Shinto temple in the first place. Shintoism has long revered trees, especially the older, larger and more deformed or interestingly shaped ones, as it’s in those trees the Shinto spirits, or Kami, are more likely to be found. Interesting, eh?
We followed our day in Ise with a couple more to the south, sleuthing out more of the Kumano Kodo to hike.
Settling on portions of the near the town of Odai, we hiked parts of the Nisaka-toge and Tsuzurato-toge (Nisaka Pass and Tzuzurato Pass). The hiking was a mixed bag in that there are so many portions of the Kodo that have been paved over and subsumed by the modern world. You definitely need to do your research to find the Kodo trailheads and then to locate long stretches of trail uninterrupted by roads, train tracks, roads or tunnels.
(The best of the online maps of the Kodo nearest to Odai can be found here: http://www.kodo.pref.mie.lg.jp/…/ass…/download/guide_map.pdf)
All in all, a good mix of the modern (good food, a charming, locals’ sento in Ise), the spiritual (Ise’s inner and outer shrines, Naiku and Geku), and the natural (hiking parts of the Kumano Kodo).
The latest video is right here.