Ise-Shima National Park, located 75 mi/ 120 km east of Osaka, is centered around the most sacred shrine in Japan and provides a fascinating glimpse into Japanese culture. For almost 2,000 years, the Grand Shrine of Ise is where the imperial family has gone to seek advice from the gods.
The Grand Shrine has two parts: Naiku (the inner shrine, dedicated to the sun goddess, the Shinto supreme deity) and Geku (the outer shrine, dedicated to the goddess of food/grain). Both are wooden buildings done in simple Japanese style based on the structure of ancient granaries. Every 20 years, both shrines are torn down and replaced by exact replicas on adjacent plots, most recently in 2013.
What makes the site impressive isn't just the architecture, but also the beautiful setting and the reverence with which it is treated by the Japanese. Only priests are allowed within the walls of the shrines, yet several million people visit them every year.
Kongoshoji is another interesting temple in the area, with a graceful moon bridge (named for its distinctive arched shape) and a trail lined with decorated poles that people have erected as memorials for deceased family members. Another site worth visiting is the "couple" rock formation of Meoto-iwa. These well-photographed boulders emerging from the sea act as a natural torii gate through being linked together by sturdy straw rope.
Ise-Shima is easily reached from Nagoya (80 minutes by train).
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