Last week, after only one day of rest in Osaka, I started a new journey, a 3 days’ trip between the islands of the Aichi Archipelago and the Ise peninsula. This peninsula houses the most sacred places in Japan for all Shinto believers, the Ise Shrines. In a few weeks, Ise will become famous even internationally, being host of the next G7 meeting.
Day 1 – Island Wonders in the Aichi Archipelago
06:08 – Same subway line, about at the same time as for the Shodoshima trip. After a change to Kintetsu Railway, 2 hours of an interesting train ride across a very rural and beautiful area between Osaka and Nagoya. Through the window, I could admire flooded rice paddies, fluttering Koinobori and many singing birds in the mountains.
09:15 – Arrival in Nagoya. After a change to another private railway called Meitetsu, I caught up with my wife and we rode together to Kôwa, a small town about 50 km south of Nagoya. There, we took a high-speed ferry to our first island of the Archipelago, Shinojima.
Shinojima is a small island (0,94 km²), with only few visitors and it’s really a shame! Apart from a nice beach, it has a wonderful wild coast with splendid rocky seascapes, narrow alleys with ancient shops and it houses very old and atmospheric Shinto Shrines on the mountain’s side. Furthermore, Shinojima is since more than 800 years the only supplier of salted sea breams for a special celebration in the Ise Shrines.
15:30 – After a too short stay on this marvellous island, we departed for Himakajima, the neighbouring island, where our accommodation for the night is located. The dynamic landlady picked us up from the pier. The minshuku is nice, with view on the sea. After a short break at the accommodation, we strolled around the island. It’s bigger than Shinojima, but not so pretty, only a typical Japanese small island without flair.
18:00 – Time for dinner! But actually it wasn’t a dinner but a real banquet!
As we arrived in the room, there were following dishes on the tables (and it was only the beginning…): a whole gilthead as sashimi, nice presented with the fish’s head, accompanied by other delicious sashimi (octopus, shell fish, etc.); a whole crab, two crayfishes, two prawns (still alive, the landlady just said “you only have to chop the head”….), Takomeshi (rice cook with octopus), some pickled seaweeds and small other things. Then, the landlady came back with a whole octopus, quick-boiled (excellent, so soft!), a grilled gilthead, an O-Asari (sort of huge clam, sooo good!) and a Sazae (sea snail) and as conclusion for this seafood orgy, delicious fried Gambas and sweet potatoes. It was such a perfect meal, thank you Himakajima for this experience!
Day 2 – Ferry hopping and rainy sacred place
06:30 – Before the breakfast, we took a short walk in order to have at least a little bit appetite. After the debauch of food yesterday, it was necessary! After a good breakfast, we packed and pursued our exploration of the island. Apart from a few temples and shrines (and great food!), Himakajima has really nothing particular to offer.
10:25 – Departing of the ferry to Irago, a port on the Tahara peninsula. There, during the few hours of our stay, we walked along the coast under drizzle rain, observing the numerous clam-catchers on the rocky beach.
13:00 – Crossing of the Ise Bay to Toba in an almost empty ferry. I’m not sure how long this ferry line will stand…
14:00 – Arrival at Toba. After a short train ride to Ise-shi, we dropped our luggage and went to visit Geku (the Outer Shrine) nearby. This sacred place of Shinto is a big and wild park with only few Shrines among giant cedar trees. Like in Izumo (another holy place of Shinto on the Sea of Japan I visited last year), it’s forbidden to penetrate on grounds of the buildings (protected by large fences), but the atmosphere of this whole area is really special, it feels like being in a giant church in the wild! Due to the weather (pouring rain) we didn’t stay very long and took the bus to our accommodation. With wet clothes under the air conditioning of the bus, I was freezing and probably caught a cold…
19:00 – After a nice and invigorating bath, time for dinner (again!). Our accommodation of the day is really nice, looks like a 4 stars’ hotel and costs only the price of a small guest house! From our room windows’ we can enjoy the view on the misty mountains of Naigu (the Inner Shrine).
In a big restaurant room, we enjoyed a truly delicious dinner. It wasn’t the same volume as yesterday but in the end it was have maybe a finer meal. A few highlights (I won’t list all of it!): duck stew (the bouillon was to die for!), Chirashi-Zushi (rice mixed with several delicacies like salmon roe, shitake, scallop, etc.) and the desert – Dekopon (sort of very sweet tangerine) jelly with pepper-mint leaves.
Day 3 – Centre of devotion and disappointment in the Pearl Bay
06:30 – After a good night sleep in our spacious room, early start with a group of tourist for a guided tour of Naigu (the Inner Shrine), very close to our hotel (5 min. on foot). In contrast to the Outer Shrine, this site is not situated in town and seems therefore to be even wilder. At this early hour, only a few other people are visiting Naigu and we can enjoy the quietness of this unspoiled natural environment. After crossing an imposing wooden bridge, we walked up to the main shrine, a big complex of buildings who, like these of the Outer Shrine, are completely rebuilt every 20 years. The 62nd rebuilding took place in 2013. Thanks to the explanation of the guide, we could truly realise the significance and the symbolic of this holy place.
08:00 – Back to the hotel, we took our well-deserved breakfast (really nice!) and packed our bags. We stayed a few hours more in this area in order to explore the ancient shopping street nearby who used to be the main route to go to Naigu. Many old buildings and shops were still there, but the atmosphere of quietness was gone. We were lucky to visit Naigu really early. Now it was full of tourists who didn’t care a bit about the signification of this place and only wanted to take the mandatory selfies on the famous wooden bridge…
12:00 – Ride by bus to Futami, on the north coast of the peninsula. On our way to the main attraction of the place, Meoto Iwa (Married Couple Rocks), we walked past many really old houses and ryokan, certain of them more than 300 years old! As nowadays the tourists are coming with shuttle busses or their own car, this ancient road is regrettably nearly dead. Arrived on the coast, Meoto Iwa was OK but not so impressive as it seemed in the Internet guides. The old streets with their ancient buildings were much more interesting!
14:00 – Train ride to Toba and from there to Kashikojima, the southern point of the Ise peninsula.
15:00 – Kashikojima is a ghost town. There is nothing there apart from the pier to the Ago Bay. We wanted to ride a small boat to explore several small islands of the bay, but the boat operator had decided that two persons were not lucrative enough and he preferred instead to close for today. What a service… Our only alternative was to ride the huge kitsch tourist boat “Esperanza”. We took the 50 minutes ride, which was a real disappointment: due the size of the boat, it can’t navigate between the small islands and can only ride around them, across the bay. The view is OK, but nothing compared for example with Kujukushima in northen Kyushu! The only really interesting thing was a short stop-over at a small pearl factory. I won’t come again to Kashikojima; it isn’t worth the trip.
17:00 – Journey back to Osaka by train. Another region, another landscapes, another great dishes: The ingredients of a successful and really enjoyable journey!