[Myself with my friend's wife, outside of the Outer Shrine of the Ise Grand Shrine]
One of the great things that came out of attending the Toyota Troop was that a fellow trooper, who lives in Mie Prefecture, invited me to come visit Ise and see the Ise Grand Shrine. (Tragically, I lost a series of photos, and only have those he sent me…but on the bright side, at least I have some instead of none.)
The Ise Grand Shrine is divided into two main parts: the Outer Shrine and the Inner Shrine. The actual buildings, while sparkling new, are identical to those originally constructed in the late 7th century.
But why are they new?
Every 20 years, the Inner and Outer Shrines are rebuilt on adjacent sites. Once the new shrines are opened, the old shrines are closed and torn down so that new shrines, identical to the old, can be built in their place.
I have a couple answers. One explanation given to me was that, because shrines are, effectively, homes for gods, the Japanese people want to give them nice homes. Therefore, the homes are constantly reconstructed. I suppose one might not feel very good about leaving an old, run-down house for a god. It is, if nothing else, logical.
The other reason I came across is that is expresses a Japanese belief wabi-sabi, a difficult concept, but it relates to the nature of life. One major aspect of life is impermanace. Life is fleeting, and yet it endures. There is death, but also birth, just as spring follows winter. (If you have a better understanding of it, by all means, leave a comment and I will edit accordingly. I’ve been here less than a year, so it’s been a bit of a crash course in language and culture.)
[And this time in front of the Ise Grand Shrine's Inner Shrine, where we climbed the steps with the masses to make a prayer]
In addition to the Grand Shrine, Ise also has a plethora of smaller shrines and a few other sites of interest. Still, the Ise Grand Shrine is probably the most important shrine in the Shinto faith. The high priestess must be a princess, and important government officials may visit the shrine, especially during special ceremonies, such as the Kannamesai Festival, which is a harvest festival held in October.
Outside of the Shrines, there is a busy street with shops selling souvenirs. For Japan, this means tasty food. Much like I experienced in Taiwan, Japan has special foods that are only made in one town. Therefore, it’s necessary to travel all over the country, try the local delicasy, and then buy boxes of it to take back home to your family, friends, and coworkers. Some may say this is tradition, but I believe it is the work of a brilliant domestic tourism agency.
The pictures I took are lost to the Void, it seems, but the local treat in Ise is akafuku, which is handmade mochi (rice cake) with red bean on the outside. Of course, there is one special place that’s better than all the rest, and we found some space on a bench where we enjoyed tea and akafuku.
Thanks to my wonderful hosts, who turned out to be very knowledgeable about their local area, I had a wonderful and really insightful trip to Ise. I was greatful for the opportunity to visit and learn so much!
Thank you so much, Apache-san!!!
[Myself and my fellow trooper, Apache-san, in front of the Uji Bridge, which is also torn down and rebuilt every 20 years, per tradition]