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Oise-mairi: Visiting the Outer Shrine

Today we visited the Geku (伊勢神宮外宮), the Ise Grand Outer Shrine enshrining Toyouke-ōmikami.

How should we characterize Toyouke-ōmikami’s function? I think the term “provision” fits well (Ise Jingu website uses “well-being” which is also fitting), as the kamisama is said to be especially responsible for food/harvest, as well as clothing, and shelter. In the lectures at Kogakkan University, this kamisama was basically described as Amaterasu-ōmikami’s personal celestial chef. I’m sure that this was a simplified explanation for foreigners, many of whom are not very familiar with Shintō, but the lectures effectively minimized Toyouke-ōmikami’s role in favor of Amaterasu-ōmikami. This is understandable since the Naiku tends to predominate in popular understandings of Ise shinkō, but the Geku has a rich history in its own right.

According to the Kojiki, Toyouke-ōmikami was called to Ise from Tanba by Emperor Yūryaku in response to a dream in which Amaterasu-ōmikami appeared and explained that she was unable to provide sufficient food on her own. In Ise Shintō, also known as Watarai Shintō after the Watarai priesthood responsible for the ritual care of the Geku, the Outer Shrine is ranked more highly than the Inner Shrine. In addition, Toyouke-ōmikami is considered to be the first creator kami to come into existence and synonymous with Ame-no-Minakanushi-no-kami and Kuninotokotachi-no-kami. For many pilgrims during Japan’s medieval periods, visiting the Geku was more important than visiting the Naiku, as Toyouke-ōmikami was cast as a kami central to the lives of the common people, while Amaterasu-ōmikami was emphasized as the imperial ancestress and of primary concern for the imperial family.

This is an oversimplification of the tradition, as Ise Shintō theory is deep and complex, but it helps to illustrate how people’s conceptions and orientations towards the Naiku and Geku have varied historically. The relationship and hierarchy between the Naiku and Geku priests and gosaijin has always been dynamic. Certainly the Geku is equally deserving of our consideration as the Naiku, but today the Geku seems to continue to be given short shrift.

That’s enough polemics for now—let’s move on to the shrine itself!

The first torii on the sando approaching the Outer Shrine stands right outside Ise City Station. Almost the minute you step off the train, you are reminded that you are in a special place—the divine capital (神都).

Walking straight from the station down the sando, you can quickly reach the entrance to the Geku. To the left, tucked away across the Magatama Pond, stands a large shrine to Inari-ōkami. To the right, you can find the stables for the sacred horses and the sacred lumber mill. Continuing forward, you enter the shrine grounds.

Below you can see the kodenchi, the alternative site where the honden will be reconstructed during the next Shikinen Sengu ritual in 2033.

‘Unofficial’ Power Spot

In the middle of the gravel-strewn grounds, you might notice a stone that is roped off but without shide attached. This stone is a popular “power spot” where people stretch out their hands to absorb its energy. Sano-sensei at Kogakkan was adamant that this site is not a “real” power spot and is roped off to dissuade people from gathering around and touching it, but obviously the locals have other ideas!

Pilgrims looked forward to enjoying Ise’s many famous local specialties during their visit. Like Okage Yokocho outside the Naiku, the Geku sando has many lovely shops offering a variety of treats and souvenirs. If you are in the mood for sweets, I personally recommend the soft-serve pudding at Yamamura Milk, the bread/pastry shop next door (panya), and the custard and Ise tea panju down the street! Locals also love the Dandelion Chocolate Shop. If you are waiting for a train at Ise City Station, take a rest in the Oisemairi Cafe Sando TERRACE while enjoying a drip coffee and castella sponge cake and flipping through books on the Ise shrines. Next door at Gohoubi, you can grab some last-minute souvenirs for your loved ones.

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