Ise temple or Ise grand shrine
There are thousands of shrines in Japan
Don’t miss the greatest of all. Go feel the difference!
In this article:
- what is the Ise temple or Ise grand shrine
- where to overnight in your camper near this sacred area
- suggestions how to combine Ise grand shrine with other beautiful places
What are we actually talking about?
Among the countless sacred places all over Japan, Ise Jingu is special. This is where the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami, the supreme deity in the Shinto pantheon and the mythological ancestor of the Imperial Family, is enshrined. Consequently, Ise Jingu (or simply Jingu, as the official name is) is the holiest site in the whole country. (source: JNTO Ise Shrine)
The Ise grand shrine actually is a complex of many shrines. But two are most important: the Outer Shrine (Geku), which is dedicated to Toyouke, the Shinto deity of clothing, food and housing. And the Inner Shrine (Naiku), which enshrines Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess. These two are Shinto’s most sacred shrines. This article is mostly about our camper trip to the Naiku or Inner Shrine.
Is it Ise temple or Ise grand shrine
Good question: is it Ise temple or Ise grand shrine. And the answer is simple. Ise is a ‘shrine.’ Both are places of worship, but what is the difference? Shrines belong to Shintoism and temples belong to Buddhism. Both are religions and are actively practiced in Japan, often mixed, by the same people.
Signs that you are at a Shinto Shrine:
- You always enter a Shinto shrine through a torii gate.
- Shinto shrines use the suffix jingu, as in Meiji Jingu.
- A pair of guardian dogs or lions, called shisa or komainu, often sit on each side of the entrance to a Shinto Shrine
- There is a purification fountain near the entrance to a Shinto shrine where you cleanse your mouth and hands before prayer.
Signs that you are at a Buddhist Temple:
- Buddhist temples use the suffix ji in their name.
- A Buddhist temple always houses an image of the Buddha.
- A large incense burner is usually that the front of a temple. The smoke created by the burning of incense is said to have healing properties.
- There is often a pagoda on the premises of a Buddhist temple. (source and creds: The Nihon Sun)
How to worship at a Shinto shrine
Now you are are this major Shinto shrine, you’d better know how to speak to the gods. It is the same way in all shrines so keep these steps in mind, take a good look at how the person before you does it and fire away!
Where: you will see a thick rope with a bell attached and large wooden box with bars at the top. That’s the spot. Now get started:
- Throw a coin into the box, from a little distance
- Swing the rope to make bell ring a few times
- Bow very deeply, twice
- Clap your hands with gusto, twice
- Put your hands together and speak to the spirits
- Bow once more, very deeply
At the Naiku or Inner shrine
It is easy enough to find. On the road, follow the (English) signs, a bit to the south of the centre of Ise city. You will see fields and fields of parking spots, especially a little downstream along the river. Most will be empty save for festival time. Note that they have barriers and maximum hight so you cannot use them anyway. But close to the entrance, just left of the Uji bridge, is a parking on the riverbank where campers can fit too. The traffic guards are omnipresent and will guide you there. You will pay about 500¥ for the privilege. Let’s start at the Uji bridge.
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 — called ‘wabi-sabi’ — and as a way of passing building techniques from one generation to the next. The twenty year renewal process is called the Sengu (source: Wikipedia)
That explains why everything looks so new, fresh and clean!
Follow the coach-loads
It is very interesting to tag along one of the groups of Japanese. Most will be companies, schools or even teams. Following them shows you exactly how the visit is done. And it teaches you about the timing too. Because most go super-fast! Enter, march to the fountain, cleans hands and mouth, march to the main shrine, worship and get out of there! Probably to the restaurants and ‘omiyage’-shops (souvenirs). No Japanese can ever come home without the proper souvenirs. My suggestion is to join and observe one of these groups till after the worshipping and next take your own leisurely stroll around the vast grounds. And head for souvenir-shopping next of course!
Practicalities: where to sleep
The shrine is open from sunrise to sunset. The only fee is the parking fee. As mentioned, it gets very busy. For a more spiritual experience, come early. Which is easy because we found you quite a nice spot just 5 minutes driving from the Uji Bridge! For camping cars it is great. It has a public toilet and is just of the main road, close to the river for an evening stroll. Find the details in the Ride Summary below. For shopping or restaurants, Ise is a big city so you will find all you need.
Fresh seafood is famous; especially Japanese spiny lobster and oysters. Nearby, in Toba city, behind the station, is a row of local restaurants where you eat what you pick from big tanks. The atmosphere is very local. Oysters are large and grilled on your table. Get there from the shrine via the Skyline (see below).
Combine your trip
Iseshima Skyline. Just a few hundred meters from our suggested overnight spot is the entrance to the ‘Iseshima Skyline.’ This is one of the many Skylines in Japan. High roads dedicated to sightseeing with views, parkings and often souvenirs along the way. You sometimes have to pay to use them, but not always. In this case the views are across the ocean with Ise city and port at your feet below. We had quite a stormy day so vistas were limited. I think Ise Skyline is a nice way to travel between Ise grand shrine and Meotoiwa or the coast.
Meotoiwa – Husband and Wife rock. You cannot be more ‘together forever’ than these two rocks. One represents the Husband, the other his Wife. They are joined by a ‘shimenawa’ a thick rope made of rice straw. The rope is renewed every year, with a big ceremony. If you visit early, the sun rises between the husband and his wife. And you might just spot Mt. Fuji in the distance.
Mie prefecture. This prefecture has many things to share with travellers.
- North in Iga-Ueno is the ‘Ninja museum’ which is very much worth a spot, and a must with children.
- East is Toba, with Mikimoto Pearl Island for pearl diving. Remember the stories of Japanese women divers who can dive so deep and long? That’s from this area.
- South along the coast is the ‘Kumano Kodo’ or Kumano old road. It is part of the old trails pilgrims used to reach several of the shrines. They still do. It is listed with UNESCO now. See also Wakayama
Wakayama and the Kii Peninsula. Basically Wakayama is the rest of the Kii Peninsula. If you make it to Ise, you should for sure continue and explore Wakayama too. There is so much to see, you can easily spend a week in this area.
- Koyasan is another mystical sacred experience. And very different from Ise grand shrine. It is high in the mountains for example. We did an article about Mt. Koya already, including where to park and sleep.
- Hot springs or onsen. There are many, many onsen in this area. A special one is ‘Kawayu, onsen in a river’ with more in the neighbourhood.
- Hiking the Kumano-trails. Old pilgrim roads still walked and worshipped today. Hikes through green Japanese nature, pure and beautiful. The Nachi waterfall, Japan’s highest, I also here. See what they say on CNN Travel.
- Wild coastal scenery, park and overnight on cliffs, fishing villages, whaling history and much more
The official website of Ise Jingu -shrine, in English
List of Japanese deities (Kami) a great set of Wiki-pages!
‘the police care appeared. Slowly. Now we will find out: can you really park your camper and sleep anywhere in Japan?‘