Mie-Ken is a prefecture located in south-western Japan. Throughout the ages it has been an important trading corridor that links east and west Japan. Its proximity to the four main cities of south-west Japan (Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara) continues to make it a convenient gateway to the wonders of these great cities. It also provides the discerning visitor with the same outlet, should they wish to discover Japanese culture and its many delights.
Attractions of the Ise-Shima Area
The chief tourist attraction of Futami is the Meotoiwa, or Wedded Rocks. Two rocks close to the coastline of this small town have become the site of a shrine to the sanctity of marriage. The larger, male rock is married to the smaller, female rock by a ceremonial rope. Twice a year the rope is replaced at sunrise, after a blessing by a Shinto priest. The ceremony is a fascinating cultural event and a meditation on the importance of marriage. The best time to see the Meotoiwa is at sunset when the red sky silhouettes the rocks in all their mysterious beauty.
Ise Sengoku Jidai Mura
This historic village on the outskirts of Futami gives visitors an insight into the everyday life in feudal Japan. The village is surrounded by wooden fortifications that are the setting for spectacular battles between the forces of opposing shoguns. Inside the village there are ninja shows and the period dramas for which Japanese television is famed. Overlooking the village is a reconstruction of Azuchi castle where a museum gives visitors an informative overview of the Sengoku, or civil war period (15th - 16th Century).
The Grand Shrine
The Grand Shrine at Ise consists of the Outer Shrine or Geku and the Inner Shrine or Naiku. It is Japan's holiest shrine, visited by the emperor every January as part of the New Year celebrations. In a ritual ceremony it is demolished and rebuilt every ten years, though it is situated amongst cedars that are over 800 years old. The whole place is an open-air cathedral that has an air of history and holiness. When visitors see priests and gardeners, in traditional clothes, walking through the grounds of the shrine, they are watching a scene that has hardly changed in the last nine centuries.
Mikimoto Pearl Island
This island, just off the coast of Toba, is home to the world-famous Mikimoto pearls. Any visitor looking for a desirable souvenir will want to join the hordes of bargain-hunters looking around the spectacular shop showcases that cover the range of Mikimoto's pearl creations. For those who wish to find out more about the pearl-making process, the fascinating museum on the island provides a guide that starts with the oyster and ends with the amazing pearl and gold creations of Mikimoto himself. Chief amongst these is the golden globe with continents of pearl. At regular intervals the ama, female pearl-divers give demonstrations of their traditional pearl-diving techniques.
Iga-Kambe, Ninja and haiku
For anyone who is interested in Japanese culture the small town of Ueno should not be missed. The castle overlooking the town rewards the effort made by those that take the walk up the hill. Smaller than nearby Nagoya castle, it is most famous as the home of the ninja. These trained assassins were very different from the cartoon depictions that are seen today. They were highly trained with sophisticated gadgets for their time and advanced espionage skills. One of the attractions at the ninja museum is the demonstration of ninja techniques and secrets that amaze and baffle to this day.
Ueno-Shi, home of Matsuo Basho
As if to emphasise the cultural importance of this particular town, the nation's most revered poet was born here. Matsuo Basho perfected the art of the haiku, the deceptively difficult 17-syllable poem with its strict guidelines but seemingly endless insight. Even in translation Basho's work is beautiful and profound. In Japanese, it is regarded as the pinnacle of artistic achievement. The museum dedicated to his work is full of fascinating artefacts, and, in common with even the smallest of museums, fully bilingual.
The Akame Falls
New visitors are often surprised by Japan's natural beauty. Despite the common perception of Japan as a collection of technologically-advanced cities, the countryside is a treasured part of the culture. One of the most beautiful places in Japan is the Akame Falls; which is a walk that takes the hardy traveller through a forest that contains 48 waterfalls. It is a peaceful and spectacular experience that will take most of a day to complete.
Central Mie: Onsens and Follies
One of the most deeply-rooted cultural traditions of Japanese society is the visit to the onsen, or spa. A number of these onsen achieve national renown. One such is the Sakakibara Onsen which is set in spectacular scenery with excellent facilities. Despite being expensive by Japanese standards the quality of the waters draw Japanese and foreign bathers to this small town in ever-increasing numbers.
The Louvre Sculpture Museum
This surreal place is a must for visitors wishing to experience the stranger side of Japan. As the train pulls into Sakakibara Onsen Guchi the rather unsettling sight of the Venus de Milo and Michaelangelo's David comes into view. The intrigued traveller who alights from the train will find a cornucopia of statues from every conceivable culture and age. The most familiar statues are indistinguishable from the originals, but the most incredible sight is a complete orchestra of frogs accompanied by a choir of cats. The Japanese obsession with all things cute is well known to anyone who has spent any time in Japan. This town is a great example of that obsession.
Mie-Ken is a prefecture that is full of surprises. To the rest of the world it is most famous for the Suzuka racing circuit that hosts the Japanese Grand Prix. If this is the reason for your visit, why not extend your trip by a few days to visit some of the places mentioned?