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Mie - Ise

Ise Grand Shrine

Entrance to the Grand Shrine of Ise. With its 2000 year history, Ise is Japan's most prestigious Shinto shrine and serves as the center of all shrines nationwide. The Inner Shrine (Naiku) is dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, the mythical ancestor of the Japanese imperial line, while the Outer Shrine (Geku) is dedicated to the guardian deity of the harvest, Toyouke.

The Uji Bridge at the entrance crosses the Isuzu River which is surrounded by 1000-year-old cedars. The Inner Shrine was founded in the third century A.D. and the Outer Shrine perhaps a century later. But it was not until approximately 690 A.D. that the practice of rebuilding the shrines every twenty years began.

Mitarashi means "a place for water-purification." Water ablutions, or misogi , are a common practice in Shinto. At the Mitarashi, on the crystal clear Isuzu River, worshippers partake in a sacred washing of the hands. 7 to 8 million people visit Ise each year.

Stairs leading to the main shrine entrance. Legend holds that this site was found by Princess Yamatohime, daughter of Emperor Suinin. She was searching for a final resting place for the sacred mirror - a symbol of the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami and one of three sacred symbolic objects within Shinto. When she reached Ise, she heard the voice of Amaterasu Omikami, saying, "This is a good place, and I would like to stay here."

The main building of the Inner Shrine is designed in a special architectural style that resembles the granaries and treasure storehouses of prehistoric Japan. Building materials come entirely from Japanese white cypress, Hinoki. The roof is not supported in the usual way by the walls, but the ridge beam is carried instead by two large columns at either end which are embedded directly into the ground. No nails are used in its construction.

Every twenty years the shrines are torn down and new ones are built on an adjacent site. The empty site of the previous shrine is covered with large white pebbles and retains its sacredness. A small wooden hut shelters a sacred central post or "column of the heart". The new shrine will be erected over and around this post in twenty years time. The most recent rebuilding, in 1993, was the 61st time since the practice began in the 690's. The preparations for the 62nd rebuilding have begun, to be completed in 2013.

"In this way the site is purified and the structures are renewed while preserving the original ancient design. The new shrines are not considered a replica of Ise, but are 'Ise re-created.' That is, the recreation process reveals Shinto's understanding of nature which does not make monuments, but 'lives and dies, always renewed and reborn.' "
- Sacred Spaces of Shinto

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