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Raina's Japan Travel Journal
by Raina, staff writer of japan-guide.com

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2016/06/20 - Train travel into the Ise-Shima region

Oyster rafts in the sea

Train travel in Japan is one of the most convenient ways to cover long distances across the country, and it was a no-brainer for me to take the train to Ise-Shima where the G7 Summit was held this May.

To kickoff my journey, I took the Shimakaze Sightseeing Limited Express train from Kintetsu Nagoya to Ujiyamada Station. It was my first time taking the Shimakaze, actually more like my first time taking a premium train in Japan - apart from the shinkansen (bullet train). Not only were the seats spacious and comfortable, there were large panoramic windows, free wifi as well as a cafe car on board! I was a little dismayed that my ride from Nagoya to Ujiyamada took less than 100 minutes because I'm sure I could have enjoyed the journey for at least another hour. Kintetsu Railway offers a variety of passes for foreign tourists that cover train and bus travel into the Ise-Shima region, but note that the passes do not fully cover the Shimakaze Premium Limited Express.

Drivers cab of the Shimakaze
Premium seats and great views
The cafe car where one can enjoy a drink and food

Arriving at the Ujiyamada Station, I took the bus for the Inner Shrine (Naiku) of Ise Jingu. Instead of taking the bus all the way to the shrine, I got off at Jingu Kaikan-mae and walked the remaining distance along the Oharaimachi, the traditional approach to the shrine. The main approach was developed to look like how it was back in the day with traditional wood facades and no power lines on the streets. Shops and restaurants line the approach and the area was bustling with activity.

Halfway down the approach is Okage Yokocho, a small district which recreates the townscape of past centuries. There are plenty of food stores and souvenir shops, as well as lots of benches to rest. One of the nicest things about the area is the ease of which visitors can snack on local delicacies while walking around, also known as tabe-aruki in Japanese. I tried a number of snacks including Ise Udon and beef croquette, and looked longingly at other snacks wishing I had more stomach space.

Inside Ujiyamada Station which was built in the Meiji Period and is now a Tangible Cultural Property
Looking down Okage Yokocho
Children playing shateki, a cork shooting game
Enjoying kakigori (shaved ice dessert) on this hot day
Teru teru bozu to pray for better weather during the rainy season
Dog charms
Craft beer for everyone
Ise Udon for me
Taiko performance by the local Okage Yokocho taiko group

It wasn't long before I reached the entrance of the Inner Shrine (Naiku). The inner and outer shrines in Ise are Japan's most sacred Shinto shrines and together with over a hundred other smaller shrines in the city make up the Ise Shrines (Ise Jingu). Having been in existence for about 2000 years, the Inner Shrine is the oldest and most sacred of all the shrines and is where the Sun goddess Amaterasu is enshrined. Visiting the sacred Ise Shrines is something that many Japanese want to achieve at least once in their lifetime and should not be missed if you are here on holiday.

Even though the Inner Shrine is over 2000 years old, the buildings are rebuilt every 20 years according to an ancient Shinto tradition. In a way, this ensures the longevity and eternalness of the shrine, as well as the passing on of the knowledge, skills and techniques needed to built the shrine from generation to generation. Former shrine materials are donated and reused at other shrines across the country, cutting down on any wastage. For example, the huge torii gate which everyone walks under to enter the Inner Shrine grounds at the Uji Bridge is built from the main pillars that were used to support the roof of the former main sanctuary.

Once across the Uji Bridge, the atmosphere turns almost subdued, compared to the liveliness of the main approach. Such is the power of being in the presence of Shinto's most venerated deity. Most visitors take about 60 to 90 minutes to visit the Inner Shrine, and there are a number of smaller shrines on the grounds. While at most shrines in Japan, visitors give thanks and present their wishes at a single offering hall, visitors to the Inner Shrine give thanks at the main sanctuary and present their wishes at Aramatsu no Miya, a smaller shrine behind the main sanctuary.

Uji Bridge is designed by shipwrights who made sure the bridge could stand for at least 20 years in the river
The Isuzugawa River where visitors can cleanse and purify themselves
The holy of holies - the main sanctuary at Naiku

After the shrine visit, I made my way to Kashikojima at the southern tip of the Shima Peninsula, where the G7 Summit was held this May. As a treat, I went to both the Shima Kanko Hotel The Classic and Shima Kanko Hotel The Bay Suites to check out the conditions the world leaders had to put up with during their stay in Japan. After seeing both hotels, I'm pretty sure it is safe to say that anyone who stays at either hotel will be well taken care of and definitely enjoy their stay. I'll willingly stay at either one, but if I had to choose, I have to say that I preferred The Bay Suites. What can I say, knowing that there were 50,000 pearls used as decoration in the building, and a roof top garden with a view of Ago Bay swayed me. However, The Classic hotel wasn't without its attractions either. The newly opened club lounge area had a tranquil library and an elegant music listening room.

View along the way to Kashikojima
Room with a view
Rooftop gardens are the best
The Club between the two hotels where the G7 summit leaders had their working lunch

The next day, I visited the Yokoyama Observatory Deck to get a view of Ago Bay. The observatory deck stands 203 meters above sea level on the slopes of Mount Yokoyama and affords panoramic views of the bay. I could see the nearby Kashikojima and both the Shima Kanko Hotels!

Then I made my way to Osatsu in the middle of the peninsula. Osatsu is off the beaten track for most travelers, but those who make the trek here will not be disappointed. Stopping at Shinmei Shrine, I paid a visit to Ishigami-san, a goddess who supposedly grants the wishes of women. I was a little skeptical initially, but was convinced when most of the other visitors were young women going to offer their prayers.

Crazy clouds and the view from the Yokoyama Observatory Deck
Hydrangeas in bloom at the entrance of the observatory
Shinmei Shrine and home of Ishigami-san
Onions hung out to dry in Osatsu

My next stop was for lunch at the Hachimankamado Amagoya, a women's diver hut where visitors can enjoy grilled seafood and talking to the female divers. An Ama is a female diver that typically dives for shellfish and seaweed. It takes years of practice to become a professional Ama. Lunch was a lavish spread of fresh shellfish grilled on the spot - so fresh they were trying to escape before being cooked - and conversation with the Ama. Truly an experience not to be missed! For those with smaller appetites or who are short on time, you can consider having tea with a smaller portion of shellfish instead of a full meal.

Lunch that tried to escape. Clockwise from top: Oasari (clam), Awabi (abalone), Ise-ebi (Japanese spiny lobster), Sazae (turbanshell), and Hiogigai (a species of scallops) in the middle
But they got caught and were thrown onto the grill
Ama-san who prepared lunch
Welcome to the diver's hut, where you don't need to be a diver to enjoy the bounty of the sea
Ama-san performing their dance after lunch
Feeling carefree and happy

Moving northwards, I stopped by the Toba Aquarium located at the front of Toba Bay, that houses the largest number of species of fish and animals in Japan, including the country's only dugong in captivity. Children and adults alike will be entertained by the animal performances at the aquarium, and I managed to catch some of them too!

Next to the aquarium is Mikimoto Pearl Island, which I took the opportunity to visit after being wowed by all those pearls at the hotel. The island has a pearl museum which introduces the history and techniques of pearl cultivation and jewelry making. It was truly interesting to learn more about pearls and how to differentiate between real and imitation ones. The island also offers performances by Ama-san who dive for pearl oysters in traditional diving outfits and goggles.

There are more places to explore in the Ise-Shima area, but I was running short of time and had to end my sojourn to the region. From the Mikimoto Pearl Island, it was a short walk to Toba Station to catch the train back home, dreaming about the seafood lunch and the sea, shining like pearls.

Caught the walrus show at the aquarium. This dude weighs almost a ton!
Mikimoto Pearl Island
Watched the impressive diving performance
Coral tank at Toba Aquarium

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List of Posts:
2017/10/25 - The 45th Tokyo Motor Show
2017/10/11 - Dipping into the three onsen towns of Yamanaka, Yamashiro and Katayamazu
2017/07/24 - Remote Riches in Toyama
2017/07/03 - Spiritual Chichibu
2017/05/02 - Fuji Shibazakura Festival
2017/04/14 - Sneak Peek from Ginza Six
2017/03/21 - A bit of everything in Fukui
2017/03/13 - Nikko Toshogu Uncovered
2017/02/15 - Subculture in Ikebukuro
2017/02/07 - Travel to the Goto Islands
2017/02/06 - Nagasaki Lantern Festival

2016/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2016
2016/12/19 - Winter Illuminations in Tokyo
2016/10/24 - The way of old on the Kunisaki Peninsula
2016/10/11 - Following the Tadami Line in Oku Aizu
2016/08/27 - Fool's Dance at Koenji Awa Odori
2016/08/16 - The three sacred mountains of Dewa Sanzan
2016/06/20 - Train travel into the Ise-Shima region
2016/04/03 - Setouchi Triennale 2016
2016/03/08 - The hunt for Namahage on the Oga Peninsula
2016/03/02 - Sake Sangria
2016/02/20 - Tokyo Plum Blossom Report
2016/01/26 - Tour de Reinan: Obama, Oi and Takahama
2016/01/25 - Tour de Reinan: Tsuruga, Mihama and Wakasa

2015/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2015
2015/12/10 - 48 hours in Tokushima
2015/11/20 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Kankakei
2015/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Korankei
2015/11/17 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/10 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2015/11/09 - Autumn Color Report: Koyasan
2015/11/08 - Autumn Color Report: Miyajima
2015/11/07 - Autumn Color Report: Dazaifu
2015/10/28 - The 44th Tokyo Motor Show
2015/10/21 - Hirado, where East meets West
2015/10/20 - Kujukushima Islands and Winter Illumination at Huis Ten Bosch
2015/10/19 - Navigating the Christian sites in Nagasaki
2015/10/18 - Cosplay at Haco Stadium Tokyo
2015/10/15 - Autumn Color Report: Nikko
2015/10/05 - Autumn Color Report: Route 292
2015/09/28 - Autumn Color Report: Oze
2015/09/24 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2015/09/16 - Nakanojo Biennale 2015
2015/08/19 - Traditional culture and hot springs of the Aizu Region
2015/08/17 - Nature and Hot Springs at Naruko Onsen
2015/08/04 - Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale 2015
2015/04/30 - Sapporo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/29 - Hakodate Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/23 - Kakunodate Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/22 - Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/21 - Kitakami Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/16 - Sendai Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/09 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/08 - Fukushima Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/06 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/03 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/02 - Nara Cherry Blossom Report
2015/04/01 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/31 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/27 - Fukuoka Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/26 - Kumamoto Cherry Blossom Report
2015/03/25 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report

2014/12/31 - Travel Highlights 2014
2014/12/15 - Seasonal Illumination: Sendai
2014/12/09 - Seasonal Illumination: Tokyo
2014/12/04 - Autumn Color Report: Kanazawa
2014/12/03 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/21 - Autumn Color Report: Osaka
2014/11/20 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/19 - Autumn Color Report: Korankei
2014/11/18 - Autumn Color Report: Miyajima
2014/11/17 - Autumn Color Report: Kyoto
2014/11/13 - Autumn Color Report: Fuji
2014/11/04 - Autumn Color Report: Fuji
2014/10/31 - Autumn Color Report: Karuizawa
2014/10/21 - Autumn Color Report: Bandai
2014/10/20 - Autumn Color Report: Towada
2014/10/01 - Autumn Color Report: Oze National Park
2014/09/29 - Autumn Color Report: Alpine Route
2014/06/19 - Toranomon Hills opens in Tokyo
2014/04/24 - Kitakami Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/23 - Morioka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/22 - Aizu-Wakamatsu Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/16 - Matsumoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/15 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/14 - Yoshino Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/13 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/12 - Kanazawa Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/10 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/06 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/05 - Hiroshima Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/04 - Osaka Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/03 - Kyoto Cherry Blossom Report
2014/04/02 - Nagoya Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/31 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/26 - Tokyo Cherry Blossom Report
2014/03/04 - Early Tokyo Blossom Report