Currently: Just back from a class party where I ate some truly amazing Taiwanese food.
A few things:
First, we had a snowstorm here in Central Japan today. There’s stuff all over the news about 10s of centimeters of snow dropped on some cities, and the video of such snow storms is pretty amazing. In our town, since we are on the south side of the mountains and isolated from some of the wind systems, there was a bit of snow, none of which really stuck, and of course it was pretty cold today. I have a hotel booked and train fare paid for a trip to Kyoto this weekend, and since it’s fairly close to the north side of Japan, I’m hoping that I can get some good pictures of some temples in snow. I mean, if I have to freeze, I should get something extra out of it, right?
Second, I had a really good trip to Ise, but to be perfectly honest the highlight of the trip wasn’t available for photography, so the best you are going to get is a wooden wall. Hopefully I’ll be able to put said wall into historical and architectural context so it’s still fascinating, but, well…I’m warning you in advance. And with those announcements: Ise!
This is the Ise-shi train station. ‘shi‘ as a suffix in Japanese just means ‘city’. This is helpful when trying to distinguish between a city and a region with the same name, similar to New York City and New York state, or Kansas City and Kansas State. For some reason on the train line I took from Nagoya, the express train stops at Ise-shi and the larger Ujiyamada Station, from which I left for home. I stopped at Ise-shi because my hotel was right outside this station.
I stopped in at a neighborhood shrine between the station and my hotel. It’s pretty tiny, but still neato in my opinion. This is a series of toriis, which are a Shinto religious symbol. I’ll have more to say about them at a later time, especially after my time in Kyoto, I’m sure.
This was about half of my hotel room. I could reach from the wall on the left of the photo while sitting on the bed and easily touch the right wall. There was a little fridge there on the right, and a desk not pictured that would be on the lower right of the photo. Perhaps the smallest hotel I’ve stayed in while in Japan (I haven’t tried a capsule hotel yet). But it was cheap and clean, and the staff went out of their way to be helpful, so….success.
Here was the bathroom of the hotel room. Probably about the size of my bathroom at my current place. The approach to the Futami Okitama Shrine and the Meoto Iwa (Wedded Rocks). Ise city proper is 5 miles or so from this part of Ise Bay, which is the body of water that goes inland to the port of Nagoya. This is the second Japanese Shinto destination I’ve been to that is based in a body of water/requires high tide for best viewing (the first was a shrine torii near Hiroshima that I visited 5+ years ago).
After Meoto-Iwa, I took the bus down to the Inner Shrine of the Ise Jingu. This is one of the major Shinto shrines in Japan, which represents where the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu is enshrined, as well as where one of the major royal artifacts (the Sacred Mirror) is also placed. At different points in Japanese history, the Imperial family was very involved in Shinto, to where family members were responsible for the more important Shrines. The inner parts of this Shrine are more controlled than most- certain areas are off limits entirely, and they do not allow photos in the main public viewing/praying area of the Shrine.
I have to say that I have a pretty low tolerance for various superstitious ideas, but when I are entering the realm that may well be where people pray to the sun goddess, there’s still quite a bit of respect I pay to it. It helps that the area is gorgeous. It was somewhat busy with lots of busloads of tour groups coming through.
These are a few pictures of the gardens near the entrance of the Ise Shrine.
Here’s some buildings between the entrance and the actual shrine- note the chrysanthemum symbol on the blue flags at center left. That’s the symbol of the Japanese emperor.
One of the other Shinto Shrines in the complex (included here to give you a representative sample). A lamp along the path. Many of the really large Shinto shrines are part of very large parks to represent nature. The Meiji Shrine in Tokyo is another one of these that I’ve been to. A nice nature picture within the Shrine grounds.
So this is as far as people get to take pictures in the approach to the main shrine area. From here I walked up the steps, and there’s signs (in Japanese only) stating no pictures — although I knew this going in. I had read that at the top of the stairs that there are 4 different gates to get into the building where the real magic happens, so to speak, but all of the buildings are very much visible from the public viewing/praying area.
….and here’s the joke of a climax. In terms of photos, this is all you really get to see of the Ise Grand Jingu. Once I paid my respects, I took a right and walked around the back of the Shrine area. Here you can see the very tops of the Shrine buildings, which look similar to others I’ve posted.
I guess I can understand any possible disappointment. However, I think that the amazing part of this whole story is that this shrine has been an important part of the Shinto religion and Japanese history for a long LONG time. I’ll have to expand on this later, but one of the larger ideas within Japanese philosophy are the idea of mastery and the idea of, for lack of a better term, impermanence (wabi-sabi). In a country that has long been tormented by earthquakes, tsunami, and fires, things not lasting forever will get imprinted on the collective mind over time.
That being said, there are actually two plots of land where the Ise Grand Shrine sits. One for the active shrine, and one where, over time, the shrine is rebuilt every 20 years. Then the old shrine is destroyed and rebuilt in that place 20 years later. The first iteration of this occurred in the year 692. So they’ve been training a new generation of people and rebuilding the same shrine, every 20 years, for over 1300 years.
Outside the Shrine, there is the inevitable shopping/food area- this area (Oharai Machi) is known for it’s historical appearance. Note how crowded these are even though it was January/ the depth of winter.
I thought this was funny because it’s a mashup of two of the big Japanese symbols- the ‘lucky cat’ and the ‘reclining Buddha’. The aforementioned super-tasty food. Meat on a stick is known the world over for its tastiness and portability. I *think* it was pork, but I’m not 100% sure. I would have gotten a second one had I known how great it was.