Ise is one of the oldest shrines in Japan. It is the native religion untouched by Buddhist influence, and it shows. The grandiose architecture Pure Land Buddhism is missing, as is lacquer. The torii gates are all natural wood, and the structures are the kind of pavilion, thatch roof, type that is indicative of Shinto. The shrine is set in a Japanese cedar forest, the entire compound covers several thousand acres of land. It can be incredibly peaceful, though it can also be overcrowded and the gravel paths make a little too much noise for my tastes. Still the way the light comes down through the trees was pretty impressive.
The main shrines are inaccessible. The two main shrines are similar setup. There is an outer fence that you enter through. You are met with a low fence that faces another large wall. Beyond the wall is the shrine proper. You cannot pass through the inner fence. People pray outside of the shrine, the large wall obstructs the view of the actual shrine. Beautiful black stones contrast against vivid white set in a path in the inner parts of the shrine. Only the Imperial family or the main priest can pass through the gates and look upon the actual shrine. Within the shrine is an item, in the grand shrine it is widely believed to be a mirror. According to Shinto mythology, Amaterasu locked herself away in a cave and so the sun disappeared. The other gods brought a mirror and threw a party outside of the cave. The goddess was lured by the sound and when she looked out she saw her reflection and was happy. She exited the cave and the sun returned to the sky. The mirror enshrined within Ise is said to be the one used to get her from the cave.
A very curious aspect of these shrines is that they are rebuilt every twenty years. Like so much of Shinto, no one is exactly sure why this is the case. That’s what I like about Shinto, it is a really chilled out religion. The most iconic symbol of the religion is the torii gate (the kind of two pillar with two crossbars gate) and no one knows where it comes from. I love that! Anyway, the shrines are completely rebuild every twenty years in the traditional style with cedar wood from trees felled from the forest. The shrines are built in an alternative sight right next to where the shrine now stands. Look at my pictures to see some of the other sites. The wood of the shrines is left untreated and allowed to decay over the twenty years. There is a great reverence for nature in Shinto. Many people would place there hands and forehead against trees in the forest and pray. Everything within the grounds down to the individual stones are sacred. And in most places photography is prohibited. I really enjoy Japanese religious places. They are incredibly peaceful even with noisy gravel, and beautiful.
We also went to Meotomi-ima which is two rocks that are married. I don’t know the story here, but these two rocks are married every year in a Shinto ceremony. Long strands of rope bind the two stones together as they sit out in the ocean. It makes for a really gorgeous site, particularly around sun set and rise (alas we did not make it out there in time). I found this place to also be really nice.
All in all I needed this vacation. I am still having my little nervous break down thing, but at least now I’m a lot more chill about it!
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