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A walk around the ‘spiritual home’ of the Japanese

A walk around the ‘spiritual home’ of the Japanese
By Seamus Kearney

<p>When you arrive at the Ise-Jingu shrine in Ise City, in Japan’s Mie prefecture, you know straight away that you are in a special place. </p> <p>Any stress you may be feeling seems to dissipate as you walk towards the main gate; you find yourself simply letting go, immersed in the stunning nature, with only the sound of birds and a nearby river.</p> <p>This is described as one of the most sacred locations in the country and is a hugely important site for the Shinto religion. </p> <p>The priests here say this is Japan’s ‘spiritual home’ or the ‘soul of Japan’.</p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb1-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>And that feeling of letting go is even more powerful when you cross the threshold into the sacred inner shrine known as Naiku.</p> <p>You walk under an impressive Shinto gate on the Ujibashi Bridge, with the Isuzugawa River beneath you. </p> <p>The priests here say the bridge, which is made out of Japanese cypress trees and zelkova, ‘separates the sacred realm from the daily world’. </p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb2-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>Pilgrims to Ise-Jingu perform a purification ritual soon after they enter the site, washing their hands and rinsing their mouths at the water’s edge. </p> <p>There is also a small building nearby with pools of water to carry out the same cleansing process.</p> <p>An estimated seven million pilgrims and visitors flock to Ise-Jingu every year.</p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb3-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p><iframe width="600" height="340" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/rGBC9tbIfzQ" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <p>Ise-Jingu is actually said to be roughly the same size as the city of Paris and is home to some 125 Shinto shrines or jinja.</p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb4-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>The outer shrine is known as Geku and the inner shrine is called Naiku.</p> <p>At Geku people give thanks to the deity of everyday things (clothing, food and housing), Toyo’uke-no-omikami, and Naiku is dedicated to the deity or goddess of the sun, Amaterasu-omikami.</p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb5-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>Ise-Jingu, which means Grand Shrine, has been around for more than 2,000 years.</p> <p>Amaterasu is actually the ancestral deity of the Imperial Family and is also known as the ‘tutelary’ deity of the nation. </p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb6-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>In ancient times Amaterasu was worshipped in the Imperial Palace by successive Emperors of Japan. </p> <p>But during the reign of the 11th Emperor, Suinin, Ise-Jingu was chosen as the place to enshrine and worship Amaterasu. </p> <p>And it was in the reign of the 21st Emperor, Yuryaku, that the deity of everyday things, Toyo’uke, was enshrined at Ise-Jingu. </p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb7-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>Japanese cedar and cypress trees abound at Ise-Jingu, with many of them hundreds of years old, and the site is surrounded by a national park. </p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb8-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>What’s fascinating about Ise-Jingu is that everything you see in terms of the structures is only temporary.</p> <p>Every 20 years, in accordance with Shinto tradition, all spiritually significant structures including the bridges, gates and temples are taken down and totally rebuilt.</p> <p>This process symbolises the importance of renewal while at the same time having continuity. </p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb9-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>The process of rebuilding is a ceremony known as Shikinen Sengu, which began in the year 690 during the reign of the 41st Emperor, Jito.</p> <p>The 62nd Shikinen Sengu took place in 2013 and the next one is scheduled to begin in 2033.</p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb10-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p><iframe width="600" height="340" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/79BPzqY6JnE" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb11-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>It takes about eight years for all of the Shikinen Sengu rituals and ceremonies to take place, including the moving of the coveted Holy Mirror, the symbol of Amaterasu.</p> <p>Visitors to Ise-Jingu have plenty of chances to witness one of the ceremonies that take place, as more than 1500 are held annually.</p> <p>For example, rituals are often held to pray for world peace, for the prosperity of the Imperial Family and the annual harvest.</p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb12-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>One of the most important ceremonies is Kanname-sai, during which priests offer the first rice of the year harvested in Jingu and say prayers of gratitude to Amaterasu. </p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb13-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>It actually isn’t possible to view the main sanctuary of Naiku, where the divine palace of Amaterasu is located, and cameras are not allowed.</p> <p>Visitors are able to get close to some of the inner fences, but not even priests are allowed inside, except on very special occasions.</p> <p>One part of the inner sanctuary is also only accessible to the Japanese Emperor. </p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb14-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>As well as visiting the religious sites of Ise-Jingu, visitors can step back in time and visit some traditional streets. </p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb15-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>Just outside the main entrance to Naiku is the famous Okage Yokocho district, where the feel of Ise in ancient times has been recreated.</p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb16-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>There are many souvenirs and local arts and crafts, as well as the best of Ise products and food. </p> <p>Cakes made out of rice and sweet beans are just one of the popular treats.</p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb17-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>Traditional methods of cooking are maintained here, with the atmosphere said to reflect the Edo and Meiji periods.</p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb18-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>As well as the quaint shops and the cafés, there are also visitor centres and museums, with valuable information about the shrines and local history. </p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb19-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p><img src="http://www.euronews.com/media/download/articlepix/japan-postcards2-bb20-230316.jpg" alt="" /></p> <p>While in Ise, the Ise-Shima National Park, which celebrates its 70 anniversary this year, has lots to offer for lovers of nature. </p> <p>The park stretches 50 kilometres from east to west and 40 kilometres from north to south and is bordered by many islands. </p> <p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Ise Jingu: Telling Japan's story to the rest of the world <a href="https://t.co/c51XUDORjA">https://t.co/c51XUDORjA</a></p>— Dr. Nancy Snow (@drpersuasion) <a href="https://twitter.com/drpersuasion/status/712024015871696896">March 21, 2016</a></blockquote><br /> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/IseShrine?src=hash">#IseShrine</a> Becomes <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SocialMedia?src=hash">#SocialMedia</a> Savvy Ahead of <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/G7?src=hash">#G7</a> Summit <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Instagram?src=hash">#Instagram</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/IseJingu?src=hash">#IseJingu</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/japantimes"><code>JapanTimes</a> <a href="https://t.co/rGAuRdZosn">https://t.co/rGAuRdZosn</a> <a href="https://t.co/MQ4BDONQ30">pic.twitter.com/MQ4BDONQ30</a></p>&mdash; Japan Society Corp (</code>JS_BizPol) <a href="https://twitter.com/JS_BizPol/status/711968191279448065">March 21, 2016</a></blockquote><br /> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">What a beautiful day at <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/isejingu?src=hash">#isejingu</a> <a href="https://t.co/Kl7zRRdCKl">pic.twitter.com/Kl7zRRdCKl</a></p>— ティティ❤️ (@_c1aire8) <a href="https://twitter.com/_c1aire8/status/711700533669552128">March 20, 2016</a></blockquote><br /> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="et" dir="ltr">Ise jingu 伊勢神宮<br /> Grand Shrine<br /> 1 Ujitachicho, Ise City, Mie <a href="https://t.co/cebhKwT0h9">pic.twitter.com/cebhKwT0h9</a></p>— ShintoShrine_Info (@Jinja_Shrine_JP) <a href="https://twitter.com/Jinja_Shrine_JP/status/703850828486979585">February 28, 2016</a></blockquote><br /> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Ise Jingu : 2014.01.23 <span class="caps">BEGIN</span> Japanology <a href="https://t.co/fBCEnyieAb">https://t.co/fBCEnyieAb</a> YouTube</p>— <span class="caps">AJAC</span> News Collect. (@jigen001) <a href="https://twitter.com/jigen001/status/710321901365669888">March 17, 2016</a></blockquote><br /> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Another fun attraction of Ise Grand Shrine! Eating and strolling on Okage Yokocho alley…<a href="https://t.co/phzMzJxSOY">https://t.co/phzMzJxSOY</a> <a href="https://t.co/atfdyWjFFa">pic.twitter.com/atfdyWjFFa</a></p>— KiKOU: JapanTripBlog (@KiKOU_official) <a href="https://twitter.com/KiKOU_official/status/702817868472307712">February 25, 2016</a></blockquote><br /> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Hear and see the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/taiko?src=hash">#taiko</a> drums beat at <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/OkageYokocho?src=hash">#OkageYokocho</a> in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Ise?src=hash">#Ise</a> over at the blog today! <a href="https://t.co/qMofRiYpw5">https://t.co/qMofRiYpw5</a> <a href="https://t.co/fqWe3uwIQq">pic.twitter.com/fqWe3uwIQq</a></p>— Dru Tang (HinoMaple) (@dru46) <a href="https://twitter.com/dru46/status/685114292375400448">January 7, 2016</a></blockquote><br /> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p><strong>More information:</strong></p> <p><a href="http://www.isejingu.or.jp/">Official Ise-Jingu web site</a><br /> <a href="http://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/spot/shritemp/isejingunaiku.html">Japan National Tourism Organisation</a><br /> <a href="http://www.ise-kanko.jp/english/">Ise City Travel Guide</a><br /> <a href="http://www.sacred-destinations.com/japan/ise-shrine">Sacred Destinations</a></p>