The Iseshima region, which hosted the G7 summit in May 2016, is actually located in the bay region of the southern part of the Mie Prefecture in central Japan. Ise-Shima can be easily accessed from major cities in Japan. Access from Tokyo is about 3.5 hours by High-speed rail (bullet train) and express train. From Nagoya, about 90 minutes and Osaka, 2.5 hours by express train. Factually, Ise Jingu is the nation’s most respected Shinto shrine and like Kumano, Ise-Shima is considered a very sacred place. The region is also famed for fantastic local cuisine and blessed with the natural beauty of both mountains and the ocean.
Some recommended highlights;
ISE JINGU (Ise City, Mie Prefecture)
Ise Jingu, officially "Jingu" is Japan's most sacred Shinto shrine with a long 2,000 year history. The shrine is a dynamic place for a pilgrimage as well as a principal location for sightseeing. During the Edo period, there was a boom of mass pilgrimages to Ise Jingu. It was said that one fifth of the population visited Ise in one year during the boom.
Ise Jingu consists of 125 shrines and its total area is approximately the same size as Paris. There are two main sanctuaries called Naiku (Inner shrine) and Geku (Outer shrine). The Inner shrine is sacred to Amaterasu-omikami, the ancestral deity of the Imperial family and the guardian deity of the nation. The Outer shrine is sacred to Toyouke-no-omikami, a deity that provides sacred food to Amaterasu-omikami and also the deity of food, clothing and shelter. Interestingly, more than 1,500 rituals are performed every year for the prosperity of the Imperial family, the peace of the world and an abundant harvest. The sequence for pilgrims is fixed to visit the outer shrine first followed by the inner shrine.
For more information about Ise Jingu, visit here.
OKAGE-YOKOCHO (The approach to the inner shrine of Ise-Jingu)
Okage-Yokocho is a charming block located in the middle of Oharai-machi with a traditional stone paved approach to the inner shrine along the Isuzu-gawa river. The buildings on the block are typical and quaint, reflecting the building styles typically seen on Ise-pilgrimage from the Edo to Meiji Periods. They were relocated and rebuilt to recreate an atmosphere of historical times. Wander into the variety of souvenir shops, cafes and food shops in the area and enjoy the shopping and local foods of Iseshima. As one of many traditions in Ise-Jingu, people worship to the Jingu every first day of the month from very early morning to give thanks for the last month and start the new month with a purified mind. Shops and restaurants are also open early in the morning on first of the month and serve special food such as congee and sweets. This is a great place to enjoy both typical local food and souvenir shopping in one place.
For more information, visit here.
MIKIMOTO PEARL ISLAND (Toba City, Mie Prefecture)
Just across the "Pearl Bridge" from the coastline near Toba station, there is a theme park of Mikimoto, Japan’s representative jeweler specializing in pearls. The Island is the first place in the world to successfully culture a semi-spherical pearl in 1893. Covered with a naturally imposing forest, Mikomoto Pearl Island is the best for experiencing everything about pearls. The pearl museum exhibits a wide range of information such as beautiful works of art using pearls, the process of cultivation and the science of pearl production. At the pearl plaza, pearl jewels can be purchased and you can enjoy dishes using Akoya oyster ligaments while at the same time observing the great ocean views.
Women divers, called "Ama" played essential roles in the pearl culture. Ama dive in their traditional white diving wear without equipment, relying on only lung power. The place offers demonstrations of their diving at close distance as you can even feel their breath. It is a very rare opportunity even in Japan to see their diving. Don’t miss out!
For more information about Mikimoto Pearl Island, visit here.
Make sure you don’t eat too much food at one place in order to enjoy the various delicacies offerd Iseshima.
Akafuku Mochi, with its 300 year history, is Ise’s most famous and popular traditional sweet. Akafuku Mochi is a pounded rice cake confection covered with a sweet bean paste. The shape of Akafuku Mochi represents the Isuzu river in the Ise-region. The ridges in the bean paste express the flowing of water and the white mochi provides the synergy, representing pebbles on the riverbed. What a great idea for a souvenir!
For more information about Akafuku Mochi, visit here.
Unique Fresh Seafood
Japanese spiny lobsters are caught in wide regions throughout Japan but the lobster from Ise, called Ise-Ebi, is known as the best in class and is treated as a luxury food dish in Japan. Abalone (Awabi) is also an expensive ingredient characterized by its firm, almost chunky texture. Ama, female divers dive to the bottom of the sea to catch abalone. The region has the largest number of Ama in the country and there is a tour available to enjoy seafood BBQ at Ama’s hut while also being served by Ama. Anori Fugu is a tiger blowfish from Anori, Shima city. It is a rare chance indeed to experience fresh seafood and the region’s assorted cooking techniques (raw, deep fried, BBQ or in the hotpot). Enjoy!
One of the most famous and luxurious wagyu beef brands in Japan (and globally), Matsusaka beef comes from the Matsusaka region of the Mie prefecture. Here in Ise-Shima, you can still enjoy Matsusaka beef in many restaurants. Matsusaka beef is the result of specially pampered Japanese black virgin heifers. Enjoy soft and melting marbled beef in your favorite way such as BBQ and Sukiyaki.
There are many more places to see and foods to indulge the senses. No doubt that you will be fascinated with all the fantastic experiences in Iseshima.
For more information about Iseshima, visit here.
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