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Ise Grand Shrine is formed of two major shrines: Naiku, where the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami is enshrined, and Geku, where the goddess of food and agriculture Toyouke-no-Okami is enshrined.
If you are visiting the Ise Grand Shrine, you should visit both of its shrines, as visiting only one is considered bad manners. Make sure to plan enough time to visit both.
There is a proper route to take when praying at these shrines. People usually visit Geku first, and then Naiku. It takes about 15 minutes by car from Geku to Naiku, and you can also take a bus.
There is also another order to follow at each of the two shrines. When you visit Naiku, please start by praying at the main building called goshogu, where Amaterasu is enshrined, and then visit the other smaller shrines. When you visit Geku, please start at the goshogu where Toyouke-no-Okami is enshrined. The areas are very large. If you wish to visit all the other smaller shrines, then plan at least another hour to walk around.
Priestesses at Ise Grand Shrine
1) Fushimi Inari Shrine
The Romon Gate of Fushimi Inari Shrine, Kyoto. Photo Credit: [cipher] at Flickr. This shrine was built in the 8 th Century by the Hata clan. It is dedicated to the god of rice and sake, Inari, who has also become associated with the prosperity of business endeavors as agriculture has become less significant to Japan’s economy.
The main draw of this shrine is the incredible trails leading up through the wooded forest mountainside of Mount Inari behind the shrine buildings.
There are over 5000 of red torii gates that straddle these trails. Each of them is a gift from both companies and individuals that costs at least 40,000 yen. The name of the donating party is inscribed on the back of every gate.
The rows of the gates are very dense and must be seen to be believed. Hiking through them is an amazing experience. The hike to the summit of Mount Inari takes about 2-3 hours, though there are also smaller shrines featuring smaller gates paid for by those with smaller budgets.
The trails also feature many statues of foxes, which are thought to be Inari’s messengers. Before you embark on the amazing hike up the mountain, be sure to stop at the shrine buildings to see the massive Romon Gate and make a donation at the shrine hall.
You can reach the Fushimi Inari shrine by taking the JR Nara Line to JR Inari station in Kyoto. The shrine is a short walk away and admission is free.
Ise Grand Shrine
Ise Jingu is one of the most sacred places in Japan. This sprawling shrine complex, set within a primordial forest, is home to Amaterasu, goddess of the sun and ancestor of the Imperial family.
It is thought to have been founded some 2,000 years ago (approximately 5 B.C.E.) when the Imperial Princess Yamatohime-no-Mikoto, daughter of Emperor Suinin, was sent out to find a permanent place to build a shrine to the Sun Goddess.
An Imperial History
For 20 years she wandered through the lands of Ohmi (Shiga Prefecture) and Mino (southern Gifu Prefecture) before finally entering the province of Ise (now Mie Prefecture). When she arrived, Amaterasu spoke saying
"The Province of Ise, of the Divine Wind, is the land whither repair the successive waves from the Eternal World. It is a secluded and pleasant land. In this land I wish to dwell."
Princess Yamatohime arranged for the shrine to be built along with a small palace nearby where she could live and fulfill the role of chief priestess. From then on, for the next 1,300 years or so, the role of chief priestess was held by an unmarried female of the Imperial line.
In the year 110 C.E., the legendary prince Yamato Takeru (whose own story is tied to Mie Prefecture) had been sent by his father, Emperor Keiko, to conquer the barbarians of the eastern provinces. visited his aunt, Princess Yamatohime who had by now been chief priestess for over 100 years.
He had not long returned from conquering the barbarians of the west and was concerned that his father, Emperor Keiko, wished him to die, since he was always sent out into danger. He said to her,
"It must surely be that the Heavenly Sovereign thinks I may die quickly for after sending me to smite the wicked people of the West, I am no sooner come up again [to the capital] than, without bestowing on me an army, he now sends me off afresh to pacify the wicked people of the twelve circuits of the East. Consequently I think that he certainly thinks I shall die quickly."
The chief priestess comforted him and gave him the blessings of Amaterasu. She also gifted him the legendary Grass Cutting Sword, Kusunagi-no-Tsurugi, one of the mystical objects that form the Imperial Regalia. However, after successfully completing his mission, he would later die of illness somewhere in the north of the prefecture.
Throughout its history, Ise Jingu has been an incredibly important destination for pilgrimage, forming one of the routes of the UNESCO World Heritage Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail. In the year 965 Emperor Murakami ordered that it be first of what would become the Nijuni-Sha, 22 important Shinto Shrines containing guardian Kami (spirits or gods) to whom messengers would be sent to report important events.
Ise Jingu is actually made up of two main areas. The Naiku or Inner Shrine is where Amaterasu is enshrined and is the more commonly visited of the two. The Geku or Outer Shrine is dedicated to Toyouke-Omikami, a god of industry and agriculture.
The Naiku and Geku are about 6km apart but it is easy to visit both in one day. In fact many people will walk between the two as part of their pilgrimage. Traditionally, one should visit the Geku first however most people these days go straight to the Naiku. The Naiku itself is accessed via the famous Uji Bridge which spans the crystal clear Isuzu River and serves to separate the physical world from the spiritual world.
Once across the bridge, the path turns right, running parallel to the river. Passing through a couple of large torii gates eventually leads to the temizu-sha hand washing basin as well as a small clearing where you can reach the waters of the sacred river. Visitors can choose to ritually wash their hands and mouths using either the temizu-sha or at the Mitarashi on the riverbank nearby.
The majority of the shrine precinct is covered in thick forest with walkways carved between the ancient trees. Some of these giants have been worn smooth in places over the years as visitors pass their hands over their trunk hoping to receive their wisdom and strength.
Also hidden among the trees are the numerous buildings and smaller shrines that make up the Naiku. Of these, the only building that is really open to the public is the Kagura-den where charms and blessings can be purchased. There are also special halls for priests to purify themselves before taking part in ceremonies and for preparing the food that is to be offered to the gods.
One of the shrines, Mishine-no-Mikura is built specifically to store the rice harvested especially for rituals. Another, called Kazahinomi-no-Miya, was built in a small clearing across the river to enshrine a pair of wind spirits who are thought to have created the typhoons that destroyed the enemy fleets during the attempted invasion by the Mongols in the 13th century.
At the heart of the forest is Kotai Jingu, the main shrine that houses Amaterasu as well as the Sacred Mirror, another of the three treasures of the Imperial Regalia. As one of the most sacred buildings in all of Japan, the shrine itself is off-limits to the public and hidden behind a high fence. Visitors may approach the gate though, by climbing a short flight of ancient, time-worn steps. It is important to keep to the sides as you approach the shrine as the center of the path is reserved for the kami.
As you wander around the forest, you can't help but feel the serenity and mystery. Even on days when it's relatively busy, the Meiji Period walkways feel relatively calm and quiet. Only when you reach the Kotai Jingu and queue up to pray does it begin to feel busy. And the whole area, including both Naiku and Geku, is about the same size as Paris.
Festivals and Reconstruction
One thing that may come as a surprise when visiting Ise Jingu is just how new everything looks from the Uji Bridge to the Kotai Jingu itself. This is because every 30 years, the whole shrine is rebuilt, always using cypress wood. This tradition, called the Shikinen Sengu, is thought to have been started by Empress Jito in the year 692 and over the last 1400 years, has been rebuilt 62 times. It was last rebuilt in 2013 so the next event will be 2033. It is not known for certain why the Shrine is rebuilt so regularly but rebirth and renewal are important concepts within Shinto.
A shrine of such importance obviously holds many festivals and rituals throughout the year for events such as New Year and the Emperor's birthday. In fact, it is thought that there are more than 1,500 rituals performed annually. Its most significant festivals though all surround the harvest. A few happen at the beginning of the growing season to pray for a successful harvest but the most important takes place in October when they give thanks for their bounty.
While it is easy to spend a full day exploring the shrine and its mystical woods, it is well worth spending some time exploring the nearby Iseshi Old Town and its famous Okage Yokocho district. This bustling area, with its traditionally styled, dark wooden buildings is a perfect place to find souvenirs and to sample local delicacies.
Despite its Edo Period architecture, Okage Yokocho is actually an entirely modern reconstruction built in 1993. It is styled on the original Edo Period market town that grew up near Ise Jingu to cater to pilgrims as their numbers reached their peak.
The quotes by Yamato Takeru and Amaterasu are taken from the 19th century English translation of the Nihon Shoki by W.G Aston.
Since there are no Shinkansen Stations in Mie Prefecture, it is easiest to reach from Nagoya. You can take the Kintetsu Line from Nagoya Station direct to Iseshi Station which takes about 80 minutes. From there, you will need to take a bus bound for the Naiku which takes around 10 minutes.
Alternatively, you can take the Kintetsu Line from Osaka-Namba Station (100 minutes) or Kyoto Station (130 minutes).
Worship & Festivals
The sanctity of shrines means that worshippers must cleanse themselves ( oharai ) before entering them, commonly by washing their hands and mouth with water. Then, when ready to enter, they make a small money offering, ring a small bell or clap their hands twice to alert the kami and then bow while saying their prayer. A final clap indicates the end of the prayer. It is also possible to request a priest to offer one’s prayer. Small offerings might include a bowl of sake (rice wine), rice, and vegetables.
As many shrines are in places of natural beauty such as mountains, visiting these shrines is seen as an act of pilgrimage,Mt. Fuji being the most famous example. Believers sometimes wear Omamori , too, which are small, embroidered sachets containing prayers to guarantee the person’s well-being. As Shinto has no particular view on the afterlife, Shinto cemeteries are rare. Most followers are cremated and interred in Buddhist cemeteries.
The calendar is punctuated by religious festivals to honor particular kami. During these events, portable shrines may be taken to sites linked to a kami, or there are parades of colorful floats, and worshippers sometimes dress to impersonate certain divine figures.
Amongst the most important annual festivals are the three-day Shogatsu Matsuri or Japanese New Year festival, the Obon Buddhist celebration of the dead returning to the ancestral home, which includes many Shinto rituals, and the annual local matsuri when a shrine is transported around the local community to purify it and ensure its future well-being. (27)
Rebuilding the Shrine
The shrine buildings at Naikū and Gekū, as well as the Uji Bridge, are rebuilt every 20 years as a part of the Shinto belief of the death and renewal of nature and the impermanence of all things and as a way of passing building techniques from one generation to the next. The twenty year renewal process is called the Sengu. In August, in a long-standing tradition the people who live in Ise are allowed to enter the area around the Inner Sanctum of the Naiku as well as the Geku. Some villages drag a wooden carriage laden with white stones up the Isuzu River onto the grounds of the Naiku. Each participant gets two white stones in a white handkerchief and these allow them to place the stones in the area around the Inner Sanctum. Other villages drag a huge wooden car or Noburi Kuruma laden with white stones to the Uji bridge at the entrance of the grounds of the Naiku. Participants receive two white stones which are also placed in the sacred space around the Inner Sanctum. The entire tradition is called Shiraisshiki and it is very colourful with every participant wearing a 'happi' coat representing a particular village. The rebuilding of the main shrine takes place on an adjacent site next to the old, and each rebuilding alternates between the two sites. The next scheduled rebuilding of Naikū is due in 2033 on the lower, northern site.
In the lead-up to the rebuilding of the shrines, a number of festivals are held to mark special events. The Okihiki Festival is held in the spring over two consecutive years and involves people from surrounding towns dragging huge wooden logs through the streets of Ise to Naikū and Gekū. In the lead-up to the 2013 rebuilding, the Okihiki festival was held in 2006 and 2007. A year after the completion of the Okihiki festival, carpenters begin preparing the wood for its eventual use in the Shrine.
Overview of Hachiman-zukuri
The Hachiman-zukuri style is one of the architectural styles of shrines in Japan.
Hachiman-zukuri, as represented by Usa-jigu Shrine, is a shrine pavilion built by interconnecting 2 buildings back to back.
It can be said that the Gongen-zukuri style, exemplified by Nikko Toshogu Shrine, also derived from the Hachiman-zukuri style.
Two buildings, a front hall and a rear hall built in the kirizuma-zukuri style (an architectural style with a gabled roof), and hirairi (the entrance to a building built parallel to the ridge of the roof, usually on the long side of the building), respectively, are interconnected back to back with an Ainoma (Middle Room located between Honden main hall and Haiden oratory) in between them.
The front hall is referred to as Exterior Hall, 礼殿, 細殿, 出殿 or 出居殿, whereas the rear hall is referred to as the Interior Hall.
A chair is placed in the anterior hall, whereas a 4-poster platform with drapes is placed in the posterior hall, with both the chair and platform serving as shinza (the seat of the deity). It is said that the god moves to the anterior hall during the day and moves to the posterior hall in the evening.
Metal gutters are installed in the valley formed where the eaves of the anterior and posterior halls meet to catch rainwater.
Ridges of gables are decorated with gegyo (decorative wooden boards used to cover the ridge and purlin ends on a roof gable).
Columns are symmetrical, and there are even numbers of columns on the right and left sides.
There are double doors at the center of the façade and an additional door on either side of the Ainoma.
Verandas surround the exterior of the buildings.
The floors of the Ainoma are recessed in accordance with ancient ritual.
Ise Grand Shrine
The Ise Grand Shrine, officially known as Jingū, is a Shinto shrine composed of a large number of Shinto shrines that is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, located in the city of Ise, which is part of the Mie Prefecture within Japan. As it is centered on the two main shrines, Naikū, also known as Inner Shrine and Gekū, also known as outer shrine.
The Inner Shrine is located in the town of Uji-tachiand is dedicated to the worship of Amaterasu, where she is believed to dwell. The Outer Shrine is some 6 km (8 mi) from the Inner Shrine, and it is dedicated to the food goddess known as Toyouke. Besides these two, there are an additional 123 Shinto shrines in Ise City and the surrounding areas, 91 of them connected to Naikū and 32 to Gekū.
Dating back from the Kofun period, it is considered to be built between 3 and 4 century, today the visitors are able to witness the magnificent architecture of the buildings which are based from the ones that were erected in 7 century.
The architectural style is known as shinmei-zukuri which is characterized by extreme simplicity and antiquity, where the shrine buildings use a special variant of this style called Yuitsu-shinmei-zukuri, which should not be used for other shrines.
Interesting fact is that the shrines are dismantled and new ones built on an adjacent site to exacting specifications every 20 years at exorbitant expense, so that the buildings will be forever new and forever ancient and original.
Built from Japanese cypress that is native to central Japan, it has measures 11 by 6 meters (36 by 20 feet), and as it is built on pillars set directly in the ground, there is a raised floor, verandas all the way around the building and a staircase leading to a single central doorway.
The roof is made of thatched reed with ten billets that are located on the ridge of the roof, and the bargeboards of which project beyond the roof to form the distinctive forked finials at the end of the ridge. The roof ridge is supported by two free-standing columns called the munamochi-bashira.
The billets, finials and munamochi-bashira are stylized forms of older storehouse building techniques that pre-date the introduction of Buddhist architecture in Japan. The wood of the old shrine buildings are later recycled in order to reconstruct the torii, or the shrine gate, and whatever is left is also sent to shrines around Japan to be used for rebuilding other shrines.
Every year there are festivals and offerings organized, among which the most important annual festival is the Kannamesai Festival, which is held in October each year. The rituals performed during this festival is by making offerings of the first harvest of crops for the season to Amaterasu, where an imperial envoy carries the offering of rice harvested by the Emperor himself to Ise, as well as five-colored silk cloth and other materials, called heihaku.
Still, there are plenty of followers that go on what is considered as a pilgrimage trip in order to offer prayers for the imperial family, to visit the shrines, to see the Isuzu River and also to look for some peace and blessing. A true important place of the Japanese history, which deserves to be well known around the world.
Torri, Ise Grand Shrine - History
An exploration of how and why places become invested with SACREDNESS and how the SACRED is embodied or made manifest through ART and ARCHITECTURE
T rees and stones have long been objects of deep devotion in Japan. Originally there were no shrine buildings instead a tree, forest, or a large boulder or a mountain, festooned with ropes, would be the focus of worship.
In Japan the mysterious forces of nature, called ke, were believed to permeate palpable matter and formless space (collectively called mono in Japanese) to create mononoke. Mononoke was seen to coalesce in trees and stones. Certain trees, especially the cryptomeria and the evergreen sakaki, were considered sacred for this reason. When one of these trees was felled and the wood used in the construction of a shrine, this sacred quality was believed to follow it into the building. The sacred tree itself was literally and symbolically present in the form of a pillar or post around which the shrine was constructed.
The great Shinto shrine at Ise is built amid a dense forest of giant cryptomeria trees next to the Isuzu River at the foot of Mount Kamiji and Mount Shimaji in the Mie Prefecture [see Mie Prefecture] in southern Honshu, Japan. Crossing the Uji Bridge and passing through the large torii gate marking the entrance to the shrine, a long path leads to Ise Jingu (Ise Grand Shrine).
The shrine consists of two groups of buildings: the Imperial Shrine (Kotai Jingu), also known as the Naiku (inner shrine), and the Toyouke Shrine (Toyouke Daijingu ) which constitutes the Geku or outer shrine. The Naiku is dedicated to the Sun Goddess Amaterasu Omikami (Heaven-Illuminating Great Deity), and the Geku to the Goddess of Cereals Toyouke Omikami (Abundant Food Great Deity). Each shrine is composed of a number of buildings, including ancillary shrines, workshops, storehouses, etc. Each shrine has an inner precinct with a main sanctuary and two attendant shrines, as well as treasuries, fences, and gates.
Both shrines are constructed of wood, and every twenty years both are totally rebuilt on an adjoining site. The empty site of the previous shrine (called the kodenchi) is strewn with large white pebbles. The only building on the empty site, which retains its sacredness for the intervening twenty years, is a small wooden shed or hut (oi-ya) inside of which is a post about seven feet high known as shin-no-mihashira (literally the august column of the heart, or more freely translated as sacred central post). The new shrine will be erected over and around this post which are the holiest and most mysterious objects in the Ise Shrine. They remain hidden at all times.
The oi-ya in the old shrine compound of the Naiku
[another photograph of the same]
- the erection of a single post in the center of a sacred area strewn with stones represents the form taken by Japanese places of worship in very ancient times the shin-no-mihashira would thus be the survival of a symbolism from a very pimitive symbolism to the present day.
The present buildings reproduce the temple first ceremoniously rebuilt in 692 CE by Empress Jito. The first temple had been built by her husband Emperor Temmu (678-686), the first Mikado to rule over a united Japan.
Emperor Temmu had established Ise as the principal cult shrine of Imperial Japan, but the site itself, and the cryptomeria trees that grew on it, were already sacred before then. The cryptomeria is a tree associated with Shinto shrines. The principal sacred plant of Shinto, however, is the sakaki (a shrub related to the tea bush). The shin-no-mihashira is taken to represent a branch of the sakaki stuck upright in the ground.
The chambers of the shrines are raised on timber piles which themselves are analogous to the central sacred post. The roof is not supported by the walls (although the rafters do rest on purlins), but the ridge beam is carried instead by two large columns at either end which embedded directly into the ground without any foundation.
Besides trees, at the Ise Shrine are many subsidiary shrines of rocks from the sea which are regarded as the abodes (iwakura or rock abodes) of deities.
Ise Grand Shrine: Japan’s Most Sacred Shrine
Ise Grand Shrine is Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine and dates back to the 3rd Century. It is considered to be the spiritual home of the Japanese and its national religion Shinto.
By John Asano Apr 24, 2015 4 min read
Ise Grand Shrine is Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine and dates back to the 3rd Century. It is considered to be the spiritual home of the Japanese and its national religion Shinto, and as such receives over six million pilgrims and tourists every year.
Ise Grand Shrine also known as Ise Jingu is a complex of over 125 shrines located in Ise City, Mie Prefecture. It is centered around the main shrines of Naiku (inner shrine) and Geku (outer shrine).
The outer shrine is easy to get to and is only a 10 minute walk from Ise-shi Station. The inner shrine is several kilometres away, so a bus from the station or the outer shrine is your best bet.
The inner shrine (内宮) is believed to date from the 3rd Century and enshrines the sun goddess Amaterasu. It is held in higher reverence than the outer shrine. This is due in part to the fact that it is purportedly the home of the Sacred Mirror of the Emperor (one of the three imperial regalia). The sacred mirror (Yata no Kagami) was given to the first emperor of Japan by the sun goddess herself. This makes the shrine one of Japan’s most important and holiest sites.
The outer shrine (外宮) located about 6 kilometres from the inner shrine dates from the 5th Century.
The shrine is unique and one interesting fact is the shrine buildings at both Naiku and Geku as well as the Uji Bridge are rebuilt every 20 years. This is part of an important Shinto belief of the death and renewal of nature and the impermanence of all things wabi-sabi.
Exact imitations of the shrine buildings are built on adjacent sites using traditional methods and techniques. That means these exact replicas use no nails, only wooden dowels and interlocking joints.
A special ceremony is then conducted to transfer the kami (god of the shrine) back to its new home.
The wood of the old shrine buildings is not put to waste, but is recycled in order to reconstruct the torii (shrine gate) at the shrine’s entrance. Leftover wood is also sent to shrines around Japan to be used for rebuilding their own structures.
The present shrine buildings were rebuilt in 2013 and we had the pleasure of visiting the shrine in the summer of 2014. It was crowded due to the fact that it had recently been rebuilt, but the smell of the new wooden buildings was still in the air and this added to the charm of our visit.
The main shrine buildings are contained at the foot of densely wooded hills, which is very reminiscent of Meiji Jingu in Tokyo. Walking through the gravel paths to the various shrine buildings is a very spiritual experience and allows you to feel the amazing atmosphere of this sacred place. It is beautiful in its simplicity as you are surrounded by green Japanese cypress trees and wooden shrine structures.
You can only see part of the main shrine buildings as they are almost completely hidden from view behind wooden fences. The inner sanctum can only be entered by members of the imperial family and a few select shrine priests. It is such a holy site that the head priest or priestess must come from the imperial family.
You are also not allowed to take pictures of the main shrine buildings. This only adds to the mystery and mystic of the place.
I managed to catch a glimpse of the main shrine buildings by peeping over the top of the fences and it certainly helps to be tall in this regards. The buildings are stunning examples of pre-Buddhist architecture and it is a shame that they cannot be seen. You can get a good idea of what they look like by looking at any of the lesser shrine buildings as they are exact replicas, but built on a smaller scale.
The architectural style of the buildings is shinmei-zukuri a style which is characterized by extreme simplicity and antiquity.
The main torii shrine gate which leads to the famous Uji Bridge is a highlight of any visit. The views from the 100 meter wooden bridge of the nearby mountains and Isuzu River underneath are breath-taking. Crossing the bridge and entrance of Naiku into the inner shrine is like entering another time and place and these are memories that will remain with me forever.
Ise Grand Shrine is truly a spiritual place located in a beautiful part of Japan surrounded by ancient forests and mountains.
Address: 1 Ujitachi-cho, Ise-shi, Mie Prefecture 516-0023
Admission: Entry to the shrine precincts is free
Hours: Opened from dawn to dusk
Closed: No closing days
Ise Grand Shrine is located in Ise City and is easily accessible from both Osaka and Nagoya. From Osaka you can reach Ise via a Kintetsu train in around 100 minutes. From Nagoya you can take either a JR or Kintetsu train. The Kintetsu is the faster of the two and takes around 80 minutes.
If you are coming from Tokyo a good option is the overnight bus operated by Sanco.