The South Route – Spiritual
Ise is home to Ise Shrine, Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine. The shrine is actually made up of two shrines, Geku and Naiku, the first of which is a five minute walk from Ise-shi Station. Collectively they are referred to as “Oise-san”.
Places of interest in Ise
Dedicated to Toyouke-Omikami, the Goddess of Farms, Harvest, Food and Sericulture, the shrine buildings show a peculiar combination of beauty, simplicity and purity.
Dedicated to the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu-Omikami, the main buildings of Naiku are considered to represent the oldest style of shrine architecture in Japan. The main entrance to Naiku is via Oharaimachi, an old merchant town modelled on those of the Edo Period. Naiku is home to the sacred mirror of the Japanese emperor and the shrine is one of Shinto’s most holy and important sites.
Leading up to the gates of Naiku, Oharaimachi is reproduction of an Edo Period (1603 – 1868) town, when pilgrimage to the shrine was very popular. Traditional tea shops, stores and restaurants as well as souvenir shops selling wooden toys and simple lacquer ware line the streets.
For more information on Ise, visit Mie Tourism website.
Toba is the birthplace of the Japanese cultivated pearl industry, the Mikimoto Pearl. The Mikimoto Pearl Museum provides a detailed history and an incredible display of the Mikomoto brand of pearl, first cultivated in 1893. You can also catch a glimpse of the Ama, the women who free-dive for shellfish in the area. Take a break in the Amagoya, huts where the divers go to rest after a hard-days work diving.
Places of interest in Toba
Mikimoto Peal Museum
Five minutes walk from Toba Station is a small island in Toba Harbour where Kokichi Mikimoto (1858-1954) first succeeded in producing the cultured pearl. The island is famous for the pearl museum and you can see demonstrations by some of the female divers of their work gathering pearls.
Amagoya are huts that are scattered along the coastline for the women who dive for shellfish. Some of the huts are open to visitors to give you a first-hand look at the lives of the divers. This special experience provides an understanding of the way of life and culture of these women, whose lives and work are unique to many.
Kumano Nachi Taisha is a Shinto shrine and one of the main destinations on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route along with Kumano Hongu Taisha and Kumano Hayatama Taisha. These shrines and the pilgrimage routes between them are part of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range. Next to the Kumano Nachi Taisha is Seigantoji, a Buddhist temple which boasts a three-storied pagoda. Not far from the shrine and the temple you’ll find the tallest (at 133m) waterfall in Japan – Nachi no Taki – which has been revered by pilgrims over the ages.
In Hongu you will find Kumano Hongu Taisha, another one of the main shrines on the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route. Also part of the route is the Kumano River. Nowadays you can enjoy half day, one day or two day kayaking tours on the river from Hongu. You will appreciate a bath in one of the nearby onsens (hot springs) after all of this.
Places of interest in Hongu
Kumano Hongu Taisha
This shrine is head of over 3000 Kumano shrines across Japan and you will feel the majesty as you walk through the shrine and its pavilions. Until the late 19th century, the shrine was located a short distance away at Oyunohara, a sandbank at the delta of two rivers. Hongu Taisha was moved due to severe flooding at the time; however the largest Torii gate in the world still stands there to mark the original entrance of the shrine.
Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route
The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage route is an ancient route walked by pilgrims for centuries. The three Kumano Grand Shrines; Hongu Taisha, Nachi Taisha and Hayatama Taisha are part of this route. The Kumano area has long been considered a sacred area and has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries. Walking these World Heritage listed trails in the paths of these pilgrims is a unique way to experience spiritual Japan.
This hot spring is said to have been discovered some 1800 years ago and is believed to have particular healing powers. One of the baths in the spring, the small Tsuboyu bath, is the only World Heritage listed hot spring in the world that you are able to bath in.
Kumano River kayaking tours
Kayak on the world’s only World Heritage listed waterway. Pilgrims used to sail down the Kumano River to travel between Hongu Taisha and Hayatama Taisha. Kayaking the river is a great way to gain a unique perspective of the sacred landscape.
For more information on Kumano, visit Tanabe City Kumano Tourism Bureau website.
Koyasan is home to Shingon Buddism and more than 100 temples are scattered throughout the area. Also receiving its World Heritage listing in 2004, Koyasan is quite a religious part of Japan. Many of the temples offer visitors the opportunity to take up lodging (shukubo), a unique way to experience Buddhism. Lodgers will be able to participate in morning prayers and eat shojin ryori, a vegetarian cuisine of the monks.
Places of interest in Koyasan
A mausoleum to the founder of Shingon Buddhism, Kobo Daishi. The approach is lined on both sides with tombs, monuments and statues of historical characters. The mausoleum draws more than a million pilgrims annually.
This is the birthplace of Shingon Buddhism. In the 9th century, founder Kobo Daishi dedicated his life to the construction of Danjo Garan. The complex consists of Kondo (originally a lecture hall), Miedo (Portrait Hall) and Daito (Great Pagoda). Altogether there are nearly 20 different structures.
The head temple of Koyasan Shingon Buddhism, this magnificent temple attracts visitors all year round. Inside the rooms of the main temple you will find exquisite paintings decorating the sliding doors, painted by famous artists from the Kano Painting School
Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism, encouraged the hand-copying of the sutras in Buddhist scriptures, saying that those who do their best to copy the sutras by their own hand and those around them, will be blessed with a healthy body and mind and all their troubles will disappear. You too can try your hand at copying the sutras.
It is very easy to cycle around Koyasan and we highly recommend it. You can hire a bicycle from the Tourism Association for a small fee.
For more information on Koyasan, visit Koyasan Tourist Association website.