The holy site among holy sites, the so-called first among Shinto shrines, Ise Jingu. Nestled in something like the middle of the main Honshu island, pilgrims have been making their way to this place to worship for centuries. So lets go check it out!
Ise Shrine is actually composed of two shrines, the Inner (naiku) and Outer (geku), each of considerable size and importance, so for organization’s sake I will be splitting this post up in to two parts to match. If you haven’t already, start yourself off at The Outer Shrine before coming back to this post. Otherwise, let’s move along!
You’ve trekked through the Outer Shrine at Ise, you’ve said your prayers and taken your photos… Now it’s time for part two of your journey, the Inner Shrine, or Naiku! If you’re feeling particularly adventurous you can hike it as the pilgrims of old did… But that might take a while, so most people hop on a bus- part two, commence!
The first thing you should see when you get to the Naiku, also know as Kotaijingu, is the torii gate framing the famous Ujibashi bridge. If you’re so inclined you can stop before crossing at the information booth to the right and pick up a map or ask any questions you is it have. This bridge crosses over the Isuzugawa, a river that serves as a border for one side of the Inner Shrine. According to the Shikinen Sengu cycle, the rebuilding that occurs every 20 years, this bridge is also rebuilt. You can see the supports of the alternate bridge in the water as you cross.
Once you cross, head right and down the spacious path leading over another small bridge, the Hiyokebashi Bridge, towards the first and second torii on the path. Stop at the Temizusha to wash your hands and mouth before proceeding under the gate. On your way, you might be perplexed to find some free range chickens roaming about on the path or beneath the trees. These chickens are the messengers of Amaterasu, her kamitsukai, so remember: Do Not Disturb.
After the first torii you can take a brief detour to the right to Isuzugawa Mitarashi, where steps lead right up to the water of the Isuzu River. Some people opt to purify themselves here instead of the spring before the torii. Either way, with the sloping stairs, the slow flowing river waters, and the woods boarding against the stone-filled river bed, it makes a gorgeous scene. The deity in charge of the river is enshrined in a rock to the left.
Continuing on past the second torii you have the option to turn left, but I recommend holding off until after to use this as a return path. Instead, take the right and cross over the bridge to check out the Kazahinomi no Miya, dedicated to the gods of wind and rain. These gods have been prayed to numerous times in the past not only to grow crops, but to protect the country of Japan from invasion, particularly when threatened by Mongols in the late 13th century. While you’re here, check out the size of some of the trees here on the Naiku grounds! Some people like to take a moment to touch the trunks and pray for health and great age like these trees have reached.
Once you backtrack a little bit to the main path, you should be by the Katsuraden. Since this shrine is often considered to be a place for prayers for the public good as well as the country, more personal prayers are usually offered here. Next to it you will find the area where you can have your goshuin stamped or purchase omamori or other shrine goods. Ise Shrine is particularly famed for safe pregnancy omamori as well as small wooden alters for use in your home.
Further along this path is the most sacred spot on your journey and the goal of pilgrims throughout the ages, the main shrine. Dedicated to Amaterasu, supreme deity of the Japanese pantheon and goddess of the sun, it is written that the Inner Shrine was founded about 2,000 years ago by Princess Yamato, the daughter of Emperor Suinin, who wandered Japan for twenty years looking for a proper place to worship the goddess. Upon hearing the voice of Amaterasu saying that “Ise is a secluded and pleasant land. In this land I wish to dwell”, the Naiku was established, and the site of Amaterasu worship was moved here.
As of this year, all of the shrine buildings were rebuilt, but when I visited I had the chance to see the rebuilding mid-progress in between various rituals that take place to consecrate the new land, buildings, and treasures within the shrine outside of public view. Speaking of things outside of public view, this place is purportedly the home of one of the Three Sacred Treasures of the Japanese imperial family, the sacred mirror Yata no Kagami. Whether it is really here or not is subject to debate, since no one has really seen it, but official report proclaims it to be so.
After the main hall you can head to the second most important site in the Inner Shrine, Aramatsuri no Miya, where the aramitama of Amaterasu is enshrined. On your way back to the Kaguraden you can see an ancient style treasury, granary, and kitchen. Continuing back, remember that path we neglected before? Take it, and enjoy the sacred stables, koi pond, and the Hall of Abstinence on your way back to the Ujibashi bridge.
Remember, don’t ruffle the chickens on your way out!
Access: Ise-shi Station, (Kintetsu Yamada line, JR Central’s Sangu line), then bus to Naiku-mae stop
Date of Founding: traditionally dated by the Nihon Shoki at 4 BCE, more realistically proposed to be 3rd century
Current Building Date: 2013
Enshrined God(s): Amaterasu Ōmikami, the ara-mitama of Amaterasu Ōmikami, Takimatsuri no Mikami, Fūjin, Raijin
Shrine Office: Y
Festival Dates: check here for a comprehensive list of festivals and dates in English
English Pamphlet: Y
Website: official English website, walk through website