The Ise Grand Shrine can be split up into two parts, the inner and outer shrine. The inner shrine, or Naiku from here on out, is the more famous one. Most people will go to the Naiku and spend most of their time there. I felt it was a nice shrine and I can see why they want to go to this one. The inner shrines always seem to be more important to me as it takes more energy to get there, although to be honest, taking a bus is not really using that much personal energy. The Naiku is pretty huge and it will take time to see everything. The main shrine is not very interesting to see but many of the secondary shrines on the site are interesting and offer glimpses into how the main shrine really looks. The main shrine at both the Naiku and Geku (outer shrine) are off limits to most people and it is also prohibited to take photos of the main shrine. They are pretty strict about this and the security will not be friendly about telling you to not take photos. Thankfully, it is only the main shrine that is off limits to photos, as far as I know.
The entrance to the Naiku is next to the main parking lot for buses. I’m sure a lot of buses just off load their passengers and they walk straight into the shrine grounds. You have to go through the first torii and a bridge before you are onto the main grounds. There are a few signs directing you to the route but I had bought a Japanese guidebook to help me out. The guidebook had a great map that detailed the most ideal route to see everything, and I followed it diligently. I didn’t ask but I believe there are free maps at the information booth at the main entrance as well if you ask them; they may or may not have English on it. When you enter, you should turn right at first and just keep going. You will pass a nice little grass field and a few nice trees. As you move along this main path, you will see a building on your left. This building is where you can take a pit stop, get some free tea, and buy some of the shrine’s special souvenirs. I should have stopped here first to buy a special stamp book. I had been thinking about it but I ended up visiting this shop as I left and decided not to buy the book. It is a beautiful book that is covered in a very light pink felt. The fact that it says “Ise Jingu” on it is even more important for me. If I go there again I would like to get this book next time.
The first important place in the Naiku that I stopped at was along the river. There is a small embankment at the river, just after the main purification font, and you can enjoy the pristine waters. This spot along the river is actually an old purification font but it is also very beautiful to enjoy the view along the river. Many people still wash their hands in the river and even a few people toss coins in. After visiting the river, I headed straight to the main shrine. The main shrine is not too far and doesn’t take too long to get there. You do have to pass the main building where many of the students are studying to become head priests, and you can get your stamps and fortunes there too. When you get to the main shrine, there is a wooden fence surrounding the main shrine area and a wooden board at the entrance for the public entrance. Unlike most other shrines, Ise Jingu’s main shrine is completely hidden. You can only see the top of the shrine and the area you are allowed to see is limited. Once you enter the outer fence, there is another fence and gate to prevent you from entering a rocky area separating the public area and the main shrine’s entrance. The gate to the rocky area is where you pray to the gods and it has a white cloth to prevent you from looking directly towards the entrance of the main shrine. I believe only the Emperor and the head priest are allowed to see the main shrine directly.
Once I finished with the main shrine, I visited a lot of the secondary shrines. I took a short walk up some steps and back down to the main route to see the secondary shrines. A lot of people skipped this area but I wanted to see everything. The secondary shrines are a lot more interesting than the main shrine itself because you can actually see the architecture clearly and you can take photos. There are guides that will take you on a tour of the facilities but I’m not sure how to get a guide or if they have English guides but most of them appear to be volunteers. When I finished visiting the secondary shrines, I headed back towards the entrance. Taking the back road towards the entrance is a little more interesting as you can see one of the horse stables, but no horses, and a koi pond. The koi pond is not as interesting but I did discover a few cocks and hens in the woods next to the koi pond. I believe they have resident chickens at the shrine but I’m not too sure why they are there.
Ise Shrine’s Naiku is a very beautiful shrine and one of the best in Japan. It wasn’t perfect as I felt that the crowds took away from the beauty of the shrine itself. I really wanted to enjoy it all to myself but that would never happen as I believe only the Emperor has the power to get a private viewing of the shrine. I was happy to have visited and my only regret is not buying the goshuincho (shrine stamp) book that I wanted to buy. At the time I was too lazy to go back 200 meters to get a stamp as I was really tired from all the walking; rather, I think I was more dehydrated. When visiting Ise jingo, you really need to enjoy the nature more than the shrines themselves. It is amazing to walk in the forest of huge trees. There are a few trees that are either sacred or brings good luck. I saw a lot of people hugging these trees. It brings a literal sense to the term tree hugger. With the shrine having been recently reconstructed in 2013, I felt it was a bit too new for my liking. The character hasn’t been worn into the place but it still looks beautiful. The craftsmanship of the shrine is excellent and there were a lot of details that I couldn’t imagine existed. Take the time you need and enjoy the craftsmanship in every piece of wood you see at the shrine and you will enjoy it a lot more.