Tuesday 17 September 2013

Day 24 - Osaka to Ise

Arrived at Ise on the Kasai local train 

Naiku and Geku are among the most important and holy of Shinto religion's shrines, housing it's most venerated deities, and this area has been subject to pilgrimage - called oise mairi - for many centuries. The Edo period, from 1603-1868, saw a dramatic rise in use of the pilgrim trail, with many ryokan and merchants establishing themselves along the route. Their traces line the roads, some still in use today.

Naiku, the Grand Shrine, was first established around 2000 years ago, enshrining the sun goddess, Amaterasu. She is symbolised in a mirror which sits deep within the holiest central shrine, inaccessible to all but the highest Shinto priests.

Naiku Seidan, the main building is also an example of Japan's oldest architectural style- yuiitsu shinmei zukuri.

Geku was established much later- only 1500 years ago. Here the deity of food and industriousness was set to work preparing packed lunches (bento boxes?) for Amaterasu. The deities of wind and rain are also enshrined here. We felt like we'd already got to know them pretty well.

We caught the train to Ise - Ujiyamada station which sits close to Geku temple and cycled the 12km over the hill to Naiku temple.

In the afternoon light, golden dragonflies flitting through carefully sculpted trees in the gardens approaching Naiku shrine. You cross ceremonial bridges and pass through Torii gateways on your way deeper into sacred space.

Preparing for the ceremony to move the deity from old shrine to new, a wide deck has been built below the enclosure. However, this is in woodland, so in order to achieve this, scaffolding has been carefully erected over the plants and bushes, at about 2m high, and a timber deck then laid over the scaffold, carefully cut around the trees. The larger trees nearest the shrine have been wrapped at their bases with bamboo tied with woven fibre rope to protect them. The result is a piece of installation art, minimal but stunning.

The new shrine enclosure stands slightly lower than the old, clean, smooth-edged wood crafted and fixed with mortice and tenon joints, dowels and wedges.

Small cafe restaurant  in a short parade with tanks of water filled with horny lobsters (in Japanese, Ise-ebi, named after the area), oysters, 'turban shells', scallops and clams at Toba station where we met  and Kazumitsu  and Hisayo Masueani who waved us into the shop from an open doorway. "Hello! Please come in!", down from Suzuka "for the day to enjoy the seafood. This is the best shellfish restaurant in Toba", the owner proudly informed us. We had made a lucky choice. After eating fresh rock oysters bigger than your fist, we were inclined to agree!

The lady who runs the simple cafe, a long table and trestles each side seating maybe 10 to 12 people at most, slicing open scallops before tossing them onto the tiny calor gas grill. A salt cellar of finely chopped chilli added a kick to the shellfish cooked in its own juices. Oishi!!!

Ise-shi is also famous for pearls, and the tiny hillock-shaped islands dotted around the coast are home to fishing villages and Ama- the women divers who traditionally search the sea bed for pearls. Remember that scene in Dr No? Connery shaves his chest and marries a local girl to find the island-lair of the master criminal. This is where it was set. They still wear knee-length white smocks and headscarves with their face masks.

And no, many onsen visits have revealed that most Japanese men do not have chest hair.

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