Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ise Shrine

Yesterday we took the train down to Ise (about 2 hours south of Kyoto along the coast). Ise shrine was at the top of my list of places to visit in Japan. It is the most sacred Shinto Shrine. Every 20 years they rebuild the timber frame structures (they've been doing this for over a thousand years!) The Shrine encloses a little hut-like structure that encloses a sacred pillar (or rather the stump, haha). There are two of these "huts", and the large shrine flip-flops every twenty years. The shrine is enclosed by five fences, only completely accessible to the high priests. We are only allowed to go through the first fence. I wasn't able to see the inner shrine completely because of the fences, but we were able to see the top. Apparently you aren't suppose to take pictures within the fence, but I snapped one of these priests in a little structure before getting told off, whoops! The surrounding area is breathtaking! Beautiful rolling hills and thick forest. There are several smaller shrines that surround the main shrine...these you can take pics of :). The rope with the paper tied around is called a shimenawa, which demarcates a sacred boundary. The timber joinery on these buildings is incredible! The joints fit together like a puzzle, no brackets or anything. When people would walk up to the shrine they would bow three times and then clap twice. Another thing that I though was interesting was the cleansing ritual before entering the shrine area. There are these water troughs with ladles to wash your hands or you walk down to the river to do so. Overall, a very spiritual experience. Oh, and there were some chickens hanging around :)

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