This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it… shrine?

5 Apr

ImageWhile the break between school years in Japan– spring break here, rather than summer– is relatively short, I did manage to sneak in a trip southwest to see a friend, CT, who’s a JET in Mie prefecture!  We planned to spend a few days in the Kansai region (best known to Westerners for famous historical cities like Osaka and Kyoto), but first, there was a site I wanted to see Mine: Ise Shrine.  

Ise Shrine is considered the most important and holiest shrine of all in the natively-Japanese Shinto religion.  In short, Shinto worships gods found in nature, and there are any number (hundreds, thousands) of gods or kami in Shinto because any natural item may have a kami spirit in it.  The most important kami is Amaterasu, the sun goddess, and her spirit is said to be enshrined at Ise Shrine.  As such, access to the actual shrine buildings at Ise is highly restricted, and the high priest or priestess, the only person allowed inside the main shrine building itself, must come from the imperial family.  

ImageHowever, the general public is allowed on the grounds and to see other buildings surrounding the main shrine buildings, and is encouraged to pray for happiness at one of the many sub-shrines.  Ise is also a great place to see the typical style and architecture of Shinto buildings, characterized by unpainted wood and thatched roofs, as well as torii gateways at the entries to various sacred areas.  Shinto buildings are usually unornamented in an effort to showcase the natural beauty of the materials used to create the structure; since Shinto kami can be found in nature, in Shinto architecture, the natural state is considered the most beautiful state.  Another common factor in Shinto architecture is the two beams sticking up out of the roof on each end.  The grounds at Ise contain many interesting buildings and a lot of beautiful nature, so even if the main shrine remains secret, it’s a great place to visit even if you’re not someone who studied Japanese art history in college and thinks this stuff is super fascinating like the nerdy person I am.  

ImageOne final really interesting fact about Ise Shrine is that it’s dismantled and rebuilt on an adjacent plot of land every twenty years.  In other words, it moves back and forth between two spots every twenty years, in order to represent destruction and renewal in nature, a central concept to Shinto.  Excitingly, this year is a year in which it’s being reconstructed, and so while it’s difficult to see much of the shrine itself over tall sight-blocking walls, I was able to see older and newer parts of the structure, which was a very interesting experience.  It’s hard not to think of shrines as old and historical buildings, so to see it being rebuilt using modern technology, scaffolding, and shiny new wood was quite the sight!  


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