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Golden Week Trip pt.2 - Ise & Meota Iwa

Written on: Tuesday May 27th, 2008

A journal entry from: Japan

After Koya-san, I made a brief stop in Sakurai, a small city. I had read about a 13-story pagoda at Tanzan Shrine here, and even though I didn't know anything about it, I decided it might be worth seeing. It turned out to be an interesting stop. The pagoda was beautiful, although not huge, and there was some construction going on at the site. The shrine turned out to have more history than I'd realized. It had originally been a Buddhist temple (hence the pagoda), and, according to a local I spoke with, the very first Shogun more or less lived here, and so it is closely linked with him and his family.

I travelled further south to Ise, small city which is home to Ise Grand Shrine, the most sacred Shinto shrine in Japan. All Japanese people are supposed to visit this shrine once in their lives.

There are actually two shrines, a few kilometres apart - the Inner Shrine (Naiku), and the Outer Shrine (Geku). Both are similar in style, and very different from any of the other shrines I've seen. Both use unpainted, natural wood for the torii gates, and unpainted wooden structures with thatched roofs for the sacred buildings. And both are surrounded by a grounds which are thick with huge cedar trees (or maybe cypress?) - hordes of visitors, etc. aside, the atmosphere has some of the feel an ancient forest.

Ise Shrine is dedicated to Amaterasu, the sun-goddess and the principle Shinto god. She is said to reside in the Inner Shrine, and the "Sacred Mirror", a historical/mythical relic, is also supposed to be kept here. But the Outer Shrine is apparently dedicated to Toyouke, the goddess of agriculture, clothing, and housing. The actual sanctuaries are closed to the public, only the priestesses and priests are allowed to enter. But you can step inside the enclosing fence and look. No pictures, though.

The nest morning, I visited the nearby town of Futami, specifically to Meoto Iwa. There is a shrine (Futami Okitami Shrine) right on the seaside here, but the main attraction is the Meoto Iwa itself - two rocks just off the coast which are joined by a thick rope ceremoniously linking them together as "husband and wife". The rocks apparently represent the creator gods Izanagi and Izanami, father and mother of Amaterasu, and so celebrate marriage. There were also tons of frog statues all around the shrine, as the frog is the envoy of the shrine's dedicated god.

I spent the afternoon hiking a nearby mountain, Asama-yama. It was raining, but it was still a good hike. There was another shrine at the top; it was open, so I was able to get out of the rain for a bit, and the wind was blowing pretty hard at the top. But there was no one else there.

That was about it - time to hop on another train after that.