Revision as of 21:02, 15 March 2013
Roof of the Naiku's Grand Shrine — the only part you can see
Ise (伊勢)  is a city in Mie prefecture, Japan. Ise is primarily known for the eponymous Ise Shrine, arguably the holiest and most important Shinto site and the reputed home of the Emperor's Sacred Mirror.
According to the official chronology, Ise Shrine  (伊勢神宮 Ise-jingū) was originally constructed in the year 4 BC. Most historians date the shrines from several hundred years later, with 690 AD widely considered the date when the shrines were first built in their current form. They are mentioned in the annals of the Kojiki and Nihonshoki, dating from 712. Sacred objects of the royal family reside within, including a covered mirror which has reportedly not been looked into for over a thousand years. The shrines are famously dismantled and rebuilt to exacting specifications every 20 years at exorbitant expense.
The present buildings, dating from 1993, are the 61st iteration to date and are scheduled for rebuilding in 2013. Preparation work started in 2005 and many festivals will be held in the years to come; alas, the most impressive of these, the "tree-pulling" festival Okihiki (御木曳) in which lumber is ceremoniously carted to the shrine, was already held in 2007 and you'll have to wait until 2027 for the next one.
Many other annual events are held around Ise, most of which are related to the shrine:
- Early in April - Kagurasai Ceremony (for three days). There are spring and autumn versions of this event. Performances of dance, music, noh, shigin and displays of flower arrangement are held in the garden at Naiku. Attendance is free
- Middle of July - Miya River Fireworks Festival. Though not as spectacular as some fireworks festivals in Japan, this is in fact a competition for fireworks producers. Original and unique fireworks can be seen. Nearest station is Yamada Kamiguchi（山田上口） (JR).
- Late in September - Kagurasai Ceremony (for three days). The autumn version of the event (details above).
JR trains link Ise to Wakayama via the coastal Kii Peninsula line. If coming in from Osaka, a slightly cheaper and faster option is to take the private Kintetsu line.
From Osaka, Ise is serviced by Kintetsu trains. Kintetsu's Limited Express depart every 30 minutes, taking 1hr 40 mins. It costs 3030 yen for a comfortable reserved seat. Kintetsu also runs Limited Express trains directly from Kyoto.
From Nagoya, Ise is serviced by JR and Kintetsu trains. Kintetsu's Limited Express is the fastest option, taking 1hr 20 mins. It costs 2690 yen for a comfortable reserved seat. By JR line it costs 1940 yen 1hr 30 mins.
Be aware that Ujiyamada station only services Kintetsu trains, while Ise-shi station is serviced by Kintetsu and JR lines.
The cheapest option for travel between Ise and Tokyo is the overnight bus operated by Sanco, (Japanese only). It's a long trip and the comfort level is possibly below an economy class air flight but at ¥7850 (return trip ¥14130) it's around half the price of the shinkansen and train option.
Ise has no ferry terminal but from Chubu Centrair International Airport one option is to take the ferry to Tsu then a bus to Tsu Station There's one ferry every hour, it takes 40 mins and costs ¥1890. There's also a ferry to Toba. With many hotel options in the seaside town of Toba this could be a good way to start a holiday. Ise and Toba are linked by Kintetsu and JR.
A regular bus service operates between Ise Station and Naiku. Another option for those who want to explore the area further is the CAN Bus day pass. This provides unlimited travel around the Ise, the Futami area, and Toba. A 1 day pass is 1000 Yen for adults, 500 Yen for children. A 2 day pass is 1600 Yen and 800 Yen. More bus and railway ticket information online .
- Ise Shrine （伊勢神宮）The shrine consists of two sites, some 6 kilometers apart but connected by a sacred forest. Access to the inner sanctum of these sites is strictly limited, with the general public allowed to see little more than the thatched roofs of the central structures, hidden behind three tall wooden fences. (Guards are on hand to make sure nobody gives in to temptation.) Visitors can, however, enjoy the ancient forest, and those with an eye for architecture will enjoy the many wooden buildings along the path.
- Gekū (外宮) or Outer Shrine. Dedicated to the goddess of food, clothing, and housing, Toyouke-o-mikami. (Accordingly, there are snacks and souvenirs available at a stand near the main gate.) The smaller of the two, this is a 5-minute walk from Ise station.
- Naikū (内宮) or Inner Shrine. Dedicated to the sun goddess, Amaterasu-o-mikami, and is the larger and more important of the two. The shuttle bus from Geku to here takes 15 minutes and costs ¥410. There are a few ponds full of colorful carp, and the river that runs nearby has the less colorful ones who didn't make the cut.
- Kawasaki Kaiwai (河崎界隈) The old merchants quarters of town. Many old buildings remain. Good for a stroll. To get there from Ise Station walk towards Ujiyamada Station, past Hinodekan, turn left, before long you'll find a railway crossing, cross there and walk up the big road, past Mini-Mini. After about 400 metres turn right at Hoshide-kan, a large wooden ryokan. Kawasaki Kaiwai is the street next to Seta River.
- Meoto Iwa, (By train, Meotoiwa is a 15 minute walk from JR Futaminoura Station, mostly along the shoreline). (夫婦岩) Also known as the Husband-and-Wife Rocks or the Wedded Rocks, these two rocks just offshore are tied together with a Shinto shimenawa rope weighing over a ton. The rocks are said to represent Izanagi and Izanami, the creator gods of Shinto myth, and the larger "male" rock has a small torii gate on top. While photos often make the rocks appear much larger than they really are, it is still a unique and interesting site. Entrance is free.
- Futami Sea Paradise. A small aquarium where you can enjoy shows by seals and walruses, and can touch and interact with the animals. It's a few minutes walk from Meotoiwa. Open 8:50～17:10. Adults 1300yen, Elementary age children 600yen, younger children 300yen.
Shop and enjoy the atmosphere in Oharai Machi. Between Jingukaikan Mae（神宮会館前） Bus Stop and Naiku this stretch of shops and restaurants retains a real historical feel. The restaurants on the left offer a nice view over Isuzu River. Half way up the road on the right is Okage Yokochou, a relatively new addition, it offers more eateries and a variety of souvenir shops.
The best time to visit is in the weekend. Often you can enjoy a free performance such as a Taiko(Japanese Drumming). Avoid this area in the weeks after New Year. The massive crowds of people visiting Naiku make it hard to enjoy.
If you go in the height of summer take your swimwear and you can enjoy a dip in Isuzu river. Swimming above the stonework near the bridge is strictly prohibited but swimming in the deeper spot adjacent to the car park is fine. Not many people swim there, mostly local school kids, but the water is clean and clear, take your goggles for a good view of the massive carp.
The local specialty is Japanese spiny lobster, known as Ise-ebi (伊勢海老, lit. "Ise shrimp") in Japanese. Fresh lobster sashimi in particular is sublime, but as you might expect such pleasures don't come cheap.
Other local specialities include Ise udon, a very simple dish of thick noodles in a strong flavoured sauce, garnished with spring onion. It can be ordered from the restaurants around Naiku for 300-400 yen.
Those with a sweet tooth will enjoy akafuku (赤福）, a mochi rice cake wrapped in red bean jam. With complimentary green tea akafuku costs 280yen (for three) at stalls around Naiku. You can also buy it boxed at the main stations, Iseshi Station and Ujiyamada Station.
- Okunoya On the river side of Oharai Machi, a few minutes walk from the Naiku bridge. Quality Japanese-style food at a reasonable price.
- KAZI (Kaji), directly across the square from Ise station. Excellent okonomiyaki for around 500 yen.
- Kitaya (喜多や). Honmachi 10-13, a short walk away from the Geku entrance. Sublime charcoal-grilled eel (unagi) dishes starting at ¥1000. Open daily from 10 AM to 9 PM.
- Sen (千). A yakiniku (Korean barbeque) restaurant within walking distance of Ise City. Open for dinner and sometimes for lunch.
- Misuzu. A two minute walk from Miyamachi station at the intersection on the right hand corner is a little family run restaurant called Misuzu. They're famous in the area for their gyoza, but also serve fried chicken, onigiri (rice balls), and oden. Open for dinner.
- 4th Club. A couple of blocks west of Ise Station from exit 1 is 4th Club, one of the nicer bars in the area. It has a good selection of drinks and is a popular hangout for local expats thanks to its affable, English-speaking owner.
- Hinodekan,  (日の出館). A traditional style ryokan situated very near to Ise Station. prices start at ¥5000 per person for a group booking with no meals. Breakfast and dinner included for ¥10000. Please contact via email.
- Oishiya, . A recently renovated, wooden, traditional style ryokan. Overlooking the sea, this ryokan is between Futaminoura Station and Meotoiwa.
- Guest House Kazami, . A backpacker's hostel only a few minutes walk from Ise-shi station. The staff is very friendly, and can speak English well enough to help you with almost anything you need. There's a bar in the lobby, but the drinks are a little expensive. Dorms from ¥2,600.