Ise Jingu: The Grand Shrine of Japan

Ise Jingu situated in the Ise city of Mie prefecture is the biggest among the Shinto shrines of Japan. Known as the Grand shrine, it is the holiest worship places of Japan. Visitors from all over the nation and abroad are always coming here while it will be highly crowded during the New Year time.

Isuzugawa: the holy river

Ujibashi, the sacred bridge constructed over the Isuzugawa River connects the outside world with the holy Shrine premises in the midst of a forest area. As the water of Isuzu River is believed to purify the body, most worshippers wash their mouth, hands and legs in this water before entering the shrine area. Some people throw coins into the river while crossing the bridge. This river is referred in many Japanese literatures from ancient times onwards. The Torii gate of the shrine welcomes you once crossing the 100meter long bridge. Worshippers bow their head in respect before crossing this Torii gate.

Shrine complex

Ise Jingu is not a single shrine, but a group of 125 small and big shrines. Two among these are the biggest which are considered as the most important ones. Situated in a woody region, this shrine has vast ground and gardens filled with various trees and plants. Most of the big trees are hundreds of years old and we can see Shimenawa (Thick straw ropes and paper strips) tied across most of the big trees. These trees are also worshipped here. Even though people used to wash mouth and limbs in the river, the shrine area has a purification trough kept there once we cross the Torii gate. We have to walk a long distance inside the shrine premises. For old people, it is very difficult to access the main shrine located about one kilometer away from the Torii gate. There are wheelchair renting facilities available at the entrance. In the vast grounds of the shrine area, many small statues could be seen over some of which people used to offer coins.

Naiku and Geku: Main shrines

The main shrines are named as Naiku and Geku. Naiku is the inner shrine where the Amaterasu Omikami (The Sun goddess) is residing. The outer shrine named as Geku is enshrined with the Toyouke Omikami who is the God of basic needs (food, shelter and clothing). All the shrines are constructed in traditional Japanese style architecture. There are no colourful structures used in the construction of the shrine buildings. Wooden structures and straw roofs are all in its original  shadings creating a feeling of attachment to nature.

Harvest festivals

Harvest festival of the Ise Jingu is celebrated in the month of September. During this festival, the years’ first harvest is offered at the shrine for thanking the God. This event is called Kannamesai. This festival is conducted by the Imperial family of Japan to thank their family goddess enshrined in Naiku. Tsukinamisai is another offering festival held twice in a year during the months of June and December.

Reconstruction in every 20 years.

Reconstruction of the Naiku and Geku shrine buildings, Torii gates and the parts of Ujibashi is conducted in every 20 years. This is a unique practice existing in this shrine. The new building will be constructed on a plot adjacent to the existing shrine building and the deity will be transferred to there during a ceremony called Shikinensengu. The old temple’s plot will be cleared and kept clean waiting for another 20 years where the next reconstruction will be done. The wooden structure and thatched roofs of the shrine are reconstructed as itself in every reconstruction. Old woods of the former shrine will be donated to other shrines for their reconstruction purposes. Some of them are even used in Ise Jingu itself for making the entrance gates and parts of the Uji Bridge. There are many small festivals conducted here as part of the reconstruction purposes. It is in 2013 that the shrine is reconstructed for the last time. Next reconstruction will be after 20 years, in 2033.

Sengukan Museum

A museum situated in the shrine premises named Sengukan has the replica of the shrine building and explanations regarding the shrine reconstruction purposes. It is opened from 9 am to 4.30pm every day except the last Tuesday of every month. Entrance fee is 300 yen.

 New Year

The most populous time of the Ise Jingu is during the New Year. People from all parts of Japan came here for Hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the New Year. Starting from the New Year Eve, the crowd begins. It is really hard to get inside the shrine area through the highly crowded Ujibashi during this cold time. Visitors can collect their lucky charms of the year from this shrine during their New Year visit. Twelve consecutive visits to this shrine are believed to make one’s life worth. During each visit worshippers will be given different animal shaped lucky charms in white ceramic and these twelve different shapes have to be kept at home.

Access: From Nagoya Station, take Kintetsu line to Ise-Shi station or Uji Yamada station (1 and half hours, cost: 1450 yen). 5 minutes walk from both stations to Ujibashi.

Website : https://www.isejingu.or.jp/en/