Kansai Scene Magazine


God's home

Ise Jingu, Mie

Shinto's principle deity, Amaterasu- Omikami, was born out of the left eye of Izanagi, father of many of Japan's land-masses, deities and forebears, while he was purifying himself in a river.

We don't know when that occurred but about 2,000 years ago, Yamatohime-nomikoto, the daughter of the emperor Suinin, embarked on a twenty-year quest to find the proper location for a shrine to venerate Amaterasu. She set off from Mt. Miwa (itself the site of an important shrine) in Nara and when she eventually found herself in Mie, she heard Amaterasu speaking to her saying this was a nice, appropriately secluded spot. That's how God's home, Ise Shrine or Ise Jingu was founded.

The word shrine is an overly simple term for this vast complex, which is home to two major shrines and at least 91 associated shrines (or 123, if you count all those in Ise).

The two principals are known as Naiku (inner shrine) and Geku (outer shrine), loca- ted six kilometres apart. Of the two main shrines, Naiku, dedicated to Amaterasu, is the most important. Geku is dedicated to Toyouke-mikami, the goddess of agriculture and industry, who is enshrined here to provide sacred food to Amaterasu.

Naiku and Geku are both built in a unique style called Shinmeizukuri and such is the regard of this place, no other structure in Japan in is permitted to use the same style. Naiku and Geku are themselves dismantled and rebuilt every twenty years in order to keep them fresh and pristine - a custom that illustrates how far embedded the con- cept of renewal is in the national psyche.

However, the visitor should not expect to enter or even see either of the two main shrines. They are so holy, they are shielded from view by high fences, leaving only the thatched roofs visible. Note also that photo- graphy is prohibited here and the rule is strictly enforced.

The fact that the two main shrines are not accessible does nothing to diminish the experience of a visit to Ise, and for the faithful probably deepens the sense of mystery of the place.

Access to the main grounds housing Naiku is over the Uji bridge. You pass through landscaped gardens before reaching a large torii (orange gate of the distinctive Shinto design). Beyond this the land is wooded. Even to the non-believer, there is a powerful atmosphere. The trees pal- pably ancient - they are massive and moss covered and some probably date back to the shrine's foundation. There is a sense of deep peace and quiet and of nature being allowed to do its own thing. The path to Naiku takes you by other venerated and ancient structures such as Saikan and Anzaisho, the hall for visitors from the Imperial Household and a resi- dence for priests undergoing elaborate purification rituals in preparation for rites at the main shrine. You will also pass the Imbiyaden hall which houses the sacred flame used to prepare all food offerings to Amaterasu and the officiating priests.

New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and the days immediately following, peace is not in it, as tens, if not hundreds of thousands of visitors throng the shrine for hatsumode, the first visit to a shrine to give thanks and to pray for luck and health in the coming year.

Annually, TV cameras record this pheno- menon and the TV station's New Year broadcasts cut frequently to Ise. For a visitor or expatriate seeking a real Japan experience, New Year at Ise must come high on the list, or if the mind-boggling crowds are too much, then a visit at some other time is a must.

Text: Chris Page • Photos: Tanja Poppelreuter

:: Online Articles


The hush-hush world of hostessing
Understanding this misunderstood business

:: feature

Maid in Japan
Maid cafes

:: special

Going once, going twice, going vroom!
Hi-tech comes to car auctions

:: profile

A leap into the unknown
Mark Richardson of Age of Jets

:: travel

Only in India


God's home
Ise Jingu, Mie

:: Kansai Listings


Up to date cinema listings guide so you always know what's on, where and when!

:: ART

Best exhibitions & listings


Best events & listings


Best gigs & listings


All the hot picks

:: Also in this month's mag

:: Food

Cafe Hafez, Horie


Red Lion, Higashi Shinsaibashi


Best festivals & listings


New releases & recommendations


Best films & cinema listings


What's in a label?


Size matters
The Asus Eee PC 701 - super mini computer

Getting there

• Two hours from Osaka by Kintetsu line.

• Geku is a short walk from Ise station, while to reach Naiku take 51 or 55 bus to Naiku-mae from the station or Geku.

• If you are driving, there is extensive parking outside each shrine, though at New Year, this will fill up quickly.