Pilgrimage to 1500-year old Ise Grand Shinto Shrine

Wedded rocks

The Wedded Rocks, due east of Ise–a sacred site for the Japanese.

It was a sunny Sunday morning, today, at Ise Grand Shinto Shrine, located two hours by train from Kyoto.  Unseasonal winter temperatures in the upper 60's brought many pilgrims out today to stroll past aesthetically pruned red pines, trimmed as if they were weathered by winds in canyons or rock sea coasts, making this transition area are feel far more remote.  A number of people gathered by the traditional ablutions area to wash their hands in the gentle and pristine Isuzu River before approaching the diety in prayer.  Inside the nearly white, flawless hinoki cypress paneled Kagura-den hall, handsome young priests in purple robes and tall black lacquered washi hats played gagaku music dating back to the Silk Road of the 7th century with shichiriki flutes, representing the earth,  sho, 17-pipe mouth organs representing the heavens, and ryuteki flutes which is the "dragon" moving up and down between the two.  Sparkling young shrine maidens dressed in white kimono and vermillion hakama skirts performed kagura, an offertory dance to Amaterasu Omikami, the Shinto Goddess of the Sun, the enshrined diety of Ise and the mythological ancestor of the Emperor.

After purification rites, I proceeded though a forest of 1000-year old cedars to the steps leading to the main shrine.  In the spirit of renewal, the shrine has been re-built once every twenty years for nearly 1500 years.  I stood silently with many pilgrims on this spring-like February day, waiting my turn to pay my respects and express my gratitude for life.