Day 75, November 2016,
A very warm night, we had no need of sleeping bags or extra blankets. We arrive at Ise Jingu around 9:30 or 10. There is a free car park, with space available, though there are a lot of people around for a Monday morning. We realize later that our navi, as usual, has delivered us to the back gate.
Ise Jingu Geku 伊勢神宮外宮
The shrine itself is so plain as to be an exercise in boredom. The style is simple. Some large trees, some very large trees, a lot of open space, plain, newish, wooden buildings with neat, newly thatched roofs and loads of gravel.
At the main hall, which is the same as the rest but larger, we witness a ceremony. A group of, apparently, local farmers led by a shrine priest in white robes and a black see-through hat bring obviously heavy bags of rice into an inner courtyard. The courtyard we can see, from a respectful distance, but are barred from entering. The locals are also clad in white, as far as possible. All have the white, no doubt standard issue, happi coats and most have found a pair of white pants, a few are in grey-green work pants and one in blue jeans. They carry in the sacks and form a pile in front of the gate to the inner sanctum. They also tie rice stalks upside down to the inner fence. We later see these same individuals making the rounds of the lesser shrines.
Some of the visitors take the place very seriously, bowing and entering and leaving the specific areas strictly by way of the torii gates. We even see one person on his knees at one of the shrines. He was there when we arrived and still there when we left. I have never seen anyone on their knees in a shrine before. Made me wonder what he had done.
The overall atmosphere of patriotic seriousness was, for D., uncomfortable and I did not feel at ease in the place at all. We leave this shrine, with some relief, and drive a few kilometres to the second shrine.
Ise Jingu Naiku 伊勢神宮内宮
Here, the many car parks are already full and the main one has a wait time of 90 minutes according to the illuminated sign. We find an alternative, free for the first hour and then 500 yen. What we don’t know at this point, is that the main shrine is a good 30 mins. walk from here. This walk takes us along a long street of Edo Jidai/era (or replica) buildings.
Pilgrimages to this shrine were popular in the Edo Jidai and, with the crowds and shops, it is easy to imagine the scene as an Edo era print.
Finally, we arrive at the shrine which is also very big on gravel expanses, large trees and, in this case, distance. It is a long walk. When we reach the shrine itself, it is much the same as the first one, plain wood construction with neat thatched roofs, all neat and new looking.
The return route is much shorter than the approach and we are soon back in the commercial district.
The interesting thing for me was the difference in the people. D. says to visit both shrines is the correct procedure, just one is not the thing at all. But it is hard to believe that these people visited both, the atmosphere is so different.
At the first, the visitors were serious, devout, earnest, unbending and, mostly, conservatively dressed. At this second shrine, they are flamboyant, playful having fun. There are several groups, couples or families who catch the eye due to their outlandish style. D. and I agree that Osaka is not far distant. We walk on to another smaller shrine of exceptional dullness. Here, D. gets her goshuin book signed, as she did at the previous places, so that may be why we came.
Next, on our agenda is Futamigaura. We grab a bento/picnic lunch, planning to eat admiring the view. When we arrive there is no view. A high concrete wall separates the car park from the sea. The shrine turns out to be a joke.
The shrine buildings are concrete and ugly and there are silly, kitsch frogs about the place. As for the famous wedded rocks, they are tiny and very close to the shore. In Kyushu, the Itoshima Futamigaura is much more impressive as is the accompanying Sakurai Shrine. Though lacking the historical significance, I am sure.
As it is getting late, we look for a supermarket and then set off for the michi no eki ‘Kii Nagashima Manbo. Absolutely torrential rain with fog patches on a dark, narrow, winding road, one of the most demanding drives I have experienced.
The author is a long term resident of Japan who has and continues to travel the country extensively. Avoiding highways where possible, the author has driven from Kagoshima in Kyushu to Wakanai in Hokkaido covering 20,000 plus kilometres and counting.