Oise-mairi: Visiting the inner shrine
Finally I can say I've visited the Inner Shrine (Naiku) of Ise Jingu!
According to the Kojiki, Princess Yamato (Yamatohime-no-mikoto) was called upon by her father, Emperor Suinin, to find a permanent residence for Amaterasu-oomikami. When she came to Ise after twenty years of searching and approached the place when the main shrine is now located, she heard Amaterasu-oomikami's voice saying, "Ise is a secluded and pleasant land. I wish to dwell here."
Before visiting the Naiku, the I+J group first stopped at a small shrine for Aedobashihime-no-kami (饗土橋姫神社), the protector kami of the Uji Bridge which leads to the Naiku. This shrine is one of the 125 shrines making up the Ise Jingu complex, although you might easily miss it behind rows of taxis if you aren't looking for it. Beside the shrine stands the old Hayashizaki Library, which attracted many scholars and Shinto priests and eventually grew into today's Kogakkan University.
After crossing the Uji Bridge, rather than stop at the first temizuya to purify ourselves, Sano-sensei took us down the sando to the bank of the Isuzu River. This area is known as a mitarashi, where people historically performed ablutions before greeting the kamisama. It is said that Princess Yamato stopped here to wash the hem of her garment. The Naiku temizuya was built later, to accommodate the increase in visitors. Next, we paid our respects to Takimatsuri-no-kami, the kami of the river. There are a few other subsidiary shrines that we weren't able to stop at, such as Kazahinomi-no-miya, which is dedicated to the kami of the wind and rain.
We made our way past the kaguraden and the imbiyaden, where Shinto priests prepare the sacred offerings of food to the kamisama. Finally, we arrived at the main shrine, dedicated to Amaterasu-oomikami, the sun goddess and imperial ancestress. Out of reverence for the enshrined kami (gosaijin), photography is not allowed past this point. We greeted Amaterasu-oomikami with the traditional two bows, two claps, and one bow. It is possible to venture a bit further into the Naiku if one presents an offering to the kamisama. However, the innermost quarter is hidden from view and accessible only to the shrine priests.
After paying our respects to the kamisama, we also visited the outer treasury (geheiden) and Aramatsuri-no-miya, a subsidiary shrine for the active or potentially wrathful spirit of Amaterasu-oomikami. Along the way, we came across roosters roaming the paths, the messengers of the kamisama (kamitsukai), and ponds full of boisterous and colorful koi fish. Tree branches laden with cherry and plum blossoms gild the walkway back to the Uji Bridge. Just walking around the Naiku to appreciate nature is rewarding.
After bidding farewell to the Naiku, we spent a few hours walking aroung Okage Yokocho, an ancient street of shops in Oharaimachi, the neighborhood located right outside of the shrine. Akafuku, mochi sweets covered in red bean paste and designed with three ridges like the kanji for ’river’ (川), is a special treat here. This is a great place to find souvenirs to bring back home.
You won’t find signs in English explaining the different shrines or environmental aspects within the Naiku, although there are English (and other) language maps available at the shrine entrance, so I hope that this account of my visit can be helpful in some way!
If you're visiting Ise City for a day, it's not hard to visit the Outer (Geku) and Inner (Naiku) Shrines. From Ise City Station (Iseshi-eki), you can easily walk straight down the Geku Sando to the Geku itself. You may be tempted to stop for snacks and souvenirs along the way, but its probably best to visit the shrine first and then relax and get a bite to eat on the Sando. From in front of the Geku, you can take the bus (pay with cash or IC card) to the front of the Naiku. Pay your respects and then take a stroll around Okage Yokocho. When you're ready to return, hop on the bus or grab a waiting taxi back to Ise City Station. Easy peasy!