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August 12th 2009
Published: December 17th 2010
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I took some time for myself over obon and headed to Mie prefecture all by my lonesome to Ise-Shima National Park to see the Ise Grand Shrine, the most sacred Shinto Temple in Japan. However the Grand Shrine isn’t just one shrine, it is divided into two complexes the Outer Shrine and the Inner Shrine. The main Inner shrine is dedicated to Amaterasu, the sun goddess, and is the temple everyone really thinks of when they think of Ise. The main outer shrine is dedicated to Toyouke Oomikami, goddess of lives’ basic needs (i.e. food, clothing, shelter). It’s a bit confusing how they refer to all as if it were one shrine when there are really two separate complexes. Fun Fact: Somewhere in one of the many buildings in the two complexes the Yata no Kagami or sacred mirror (one of three imperial treasures) is supposed to be housed. No one really knows where exactly or if it really exists. Another interesting fact is that the two shrines are rebuilt completely every 20 years from fresh wood along with the Uji Bridge that leads into the Inner Shrine.

I visited the Outer Shrine first and then made my way to the Inner Shrine. The Outer Shrine was beautifully located in a wooded location. The shrine buildings nestled beneath the pines were very natural, made out of wood, not painted at all and barely decorated. It really felt like this is what worship was in Japan originally. The atmosphere alone shows that this is really the holiest place in Japan. It was serene and natural with a real feeling of reflection and respect in the air. The Inner Shrine was a little more structured in both landscape and building arrangement. Interestingly enough you can’t actually see the main shrine in the complex. It is fenced off and all you glimpse is the rooftop. Either way it is a striking contrast from the nearly garish, although equally stunning temple complex I visited last Christmas holidays in Nikko.

After Ise Jingu I wanted to see Meoto-Iwa (Wedded Rocks) at Futami Okitama Shrine north of Ise city. Since I had extra time I impulsively went there. I photographed the map outside the station in Futami so I’d have something to follow. Futami is very tiny so the coast and the shrine were pretty easy to find. The shrine was small, but cute and near the entrance there were rocks with locks attached to them with couple’s initials. I’m guessing this is for couples to have a strong long lasting relationship/marriage. There were also an abundance of frog statues. The purpose/meaning of these I don’t know, but they sure are adorable. The Wedded Rocks themselves were smaller than I expected. According to Shinto legend the rocks represent the union of Izanagi and Izanami, siblings who gave birth to the islands of Japan and several deities. The larger rock with the torii on top is the male and the smaller rock is the female. They are joined together by a shimenawa (rice straw rope) that weighs over a ton. I was really happy the tide was up when I was there, apparently at low tide the rocks are no longer separated and aren’t as picturesque. The small shrine, Futami Okitama Shrine, on the mainland is dedicated to Miketsu the goddess of food. On my way back I grabbed a seafood bento for the train ride back and found some funny advertisements in the train station.

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