Friday, August 26, 2011

お盆休み (Obon Break): 伊勢神宮 (Ise Shrine)

Obon is on of the biggest holidays in Japan. It's basically a big festival in order to honor the deceased, and it's pretty much the ONLY time of the year that most Japanese workers can be guaranteed a full week off.

I, of course, only had off Friday and Monday, so I decided to head over to Gifu to hang out with Abby(fine, I'll spell your name right) and Matt for my four day weekend. I was originally planning to just spend one night with them, but somehow that turned into the whole weekend.

Normally, it takes 40 minutes on the train to get to Gifu, but there were some train problems (a suicide, it seems :-( ), and it ended up taking me two hours. My first Japanese experience with train delays (and I was even in Tokyo the day after the earthquake)! There was something kind of exciting about it! After heading up to the top of a super tall building and getting a lovely view out over the city, they brought me to this DELICIOUS Italian restaurant where their friends work - they have tons of gluten free options for Abby, and they were very obliging in whipping me up some vegan pasta and a vegan pizza. Now I need to go back to Gifu again just for the deliciousness of this restaurant!

Then we woke up super early on Saturday morning, met up with Martin in Nagoya, and headed all together to Ise Jingu in Mie Prefecture. If you want a well put-together blog entry with lots of info, check out Abby's post, as you're probably not going to get that from me.
It's this amazing shrine complex that is dedicated to the goddess Amaterasu. I guess she's apparently enshrined there, but according to Matt, she's also enshrined somewhere in Nagoya, so that's weird.
There's an outer shrine and an inner shrine, and while the outer shrine itself was nothing overly impressive, I can't even remember the last time I felt so peacefully surrounded by nature. There was this HUGE hollow tree, and despite Abby's lack of desire to meet a spider or get bitten by a mosquito, I managed to convince her to go in with me! She left quickly, but it was my first time actually INSIDE a tree, and I practically had to be dragged out. I could literally stand up inside and look up all the way through it. It was amazing!
Us in the tree!!!! As amazing as everything about this day was, this might have been the highlight for me!

When we got to the inner shrine, which was infinitely more impressive, there was this big box thing, which supposedly contained something that the goddess once touched. Except that it's never been opened. And when they move it they don't open it. And so it's just been told over and over again over the generations that it contains something that the goddess has touched, and you've just got to believe. I like believing in things like that, so I've decided to believe.

Apparently the buildings are changed fairly often, so what we were seeing wasn't old. You can read all about it in Abby's blog, but I guess they just dismantle them and then rebuild them every few years or so. I guess the Shinto's don't believe in permanence, and really, why should they? The world is an ever-changing place, after all.
After exploring the shrines, we walked a little bit around the small shopping district nearby. It was very old style Japanese, and we bought some akafuku, which is basically like reverse daifuku - the red bean paste is on the outside, and the mochi is on the inside. It was utterly and absolutely delicious! The picture to the right is the akafuku shop - I have no idea for real, but I'm just going to say that maybe they make some of it in those vat looking things! :-)

And that was our day in Ise! We stopped in Nagoya on our way back for some delicious Indian food (it's wonderful that Indian food can almost always satisfy both the gluten free diet and the vegan diet) and were basically exhausted beyond belief upon our return home (well, Abby, Matt, and I were - I can't really say for Martin)!

0 things said: