Ise-jingu Shrine (Inner Shrine) 伊勢神宮内宮
The most sacred Shinto shrine in Japan
Nowhere is more sacred to the Japanese than Ise-jingu Shrine's Inner Shrine. The pilgrimage to this holy site will provide you with a unique opportunity to connect with the spirit of Japan and its people.
- Exploring the most hallowed ground of the Shinto religion
- Unique gifts and culinary delights from Oharaimachi nearby
How to Get There
From the Outer Shrine in central Ise , a bus can get you to the Inner Shrine in 10 to 15 minutes.
If you're coming from elsewhere by train, Isuzugawa Station will get you closer. Buses from the station run frequently and take six minutes each way.
Isuzugawa Station is accessible from nearby major cities on the Kintetsu Line: from Nagoya in about 90 minutes, from Osaka-Namba in around 1 hour 50 minutes, and from Kyoto in approximately 2 hours 30 minutes.
Grand myths for a grand shrine
The Inner Shrine is the most important building within the Ise-jingu Shrine complex. Modern research dates the shrine back to the 4th century, and some structures may have been erected as much as a century earlier.
The Inner Shrine's importance stems from its enshrinement of Amaterasu Omikami and its connection with the mythical origin of the Japan. As the sun goddess, she is the supreme deity of Shinto.
According to legend, Japan's emperors, including the current occupant of the Chrysanthemum Throne, are her direct descendants. The shrine's chief priest must be related to the imperial household, and the Emperor himself visits the Inner Shrine every year.
The Sacred Mirror, one of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan, is said to be kept within the Inner Shrine, although viewing it is off limits to the public. According to Shinto myth, this mirror was used to lure Amaterasu out of a cave where she had been hiding from her brother's offensive behavior.
When to go
The Inner Shrine is popular year-round, but the New Year's holiday is particularly busy. Many Japanese traditionally visit shrines to pray for good luck in the coming year. As the most sacred site in the country, the Inner Shrine is packed with visitors during this time.
In fact, many Japanese try to make the pilgrimage to Ise at least once in their lives, and New Year is considered an especially auspicious time to visit. As such, it's also the most crowded.
If you're able to visit in April or September, don't miss the Kagura Festival featuring performances of traditional Japanese theater, dance, music, and poetry, along with flower arrangement exhibits.
A portal to the realm of the spirit
To enter the Inner Shrine's grounds, you cross the wooden Uji Bridge. From here you seem to step back in time, with the only sign of modernity being a nearby Japanese flag. The grounds have a solemn, otherworldly atmosphere.
Traditional torii gates stand at either end of the bridge, acting as a passage between the secular world and the divine. A central strip across has been raised to keep visitors from walking down the middle; only the gods pass through the center of a torii gate.
Cycle of renewal
The Inner Shrine, the Uji Bridge, and 14 other structures across the complex have been ritually reconstructed every 20 years since the 7th century, minus a few delays due to war. The most recent renewal was in 2013. Each cycle of reconstruction takes eight years to complete.
Modest, yet imposing
The structures here are built with unvarnished Japanese cypress traditionally harvested from the Kiso Valley in Nagano Prefecture . In recent decades, plantations in the forests surrounding the shrine have also come into use.
In contrast with the brilliant vermillion red you see at other renowned shrines like Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto , Ise-jingu's Inner Shrine is simple and not at all flashy. Some say that the buildings here don't need vermillion paint to ward off evil because the presence of Amaterasu makes it so powerful.
When you reach the main building of the Inner Shrine, the view is obscured by a hanging curtain, as regular people are prohibited from gazing directly at it. Access within is restricted to the emperor and senior Shinto priests.
The return journey
After paying your respects, a vast array of food, trinkets, craftwork and more awaits you in the traditional pilgrim's district near the shrine, home to the atmospheric street known as Oharaimachi and the square called Okage Yokocho.
Other areas of interest near Ise-jingu Shrine include the Hinjitsukan , an elite historic inn that's been converted into a museum. Head south to the city of Toba , and you'll find the Toba Aquarium and the famous “wedded rocks” of Meoto Iwa .