Visit sacred Ise Jingu Shrine and explore traditional streets and shops in Okage Yokocho.

Visit sacred Ise Jingu Shrine and explore traditional streets and shops in Okage Yokocho.

When Japanese people travel to Mie Prefecture,they usually visit Ise Jingu, the most sacred shinto shrine in Japan. Worshippers in Edo Period(1600-1868) felt it was necessary to make the journey and pray at the sacred shrine at least once in their lifetime. Ise Jingu is said to be the birthplace of the Japanese national spirit, and to this very day, many Japanese people come to worship at the site.. For visitors to Japan, Ise Jingu provides a glimpse into the sacred history of the Shinto religion. A visit to the shrine is not complete without spending some time in the beautiful area of Okage Yokocho, which features many beautiful wooden buildings constructed in a traditional style. When you are ready to take a break from walking around and exploring, you can experience the spirit of Okage and try delicious local dishes such as Ise udon.

Written by Nathan Raymond
About the Author:
I live with my family in Gifu and I always enjoy seeking out new Japanese experiences in Mie Prefecture to try for the first time. The richness of Japanese culture and the warmth of the local people always create a wonderful combination that makes any new place, activity or food something special.

Ise Jingu is a place that most Japanese people will visit at least once in their lifetime. Every year, approximately eight million people come to the shrine to worship or as tourists. According to the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicles of Japan), Ise was chosen over 2,000 years ago by the daughter of the Emperor to enshrine Amaterasu (the goddess of the sun).

Caption: Ise Jingu has been a special place of worship for Japanese people for 2,000 years.

Japanese people have made the journey to Ise Jingu for hundreds of years to renew their mind, body and soul. Before modern transportation and convenience, many travelers came on foot. It would take at least 25 days on foot from Tokyo and five days from Kyoto or Osaka. After their visit to the shrine, travelers would refresh themselves with food and supplies from the local shops before returning home.

Visitors today can travel comfortably by train or car to Ise, but the opportunity to refresh and sample local foods and products remains at Okage Yokocho. The streets of this area close to the Ise Jingu Shrine complex has a wide array of shops and restaurants housed in buildings that maintain the traditional style of ancient Japan. Visitors can buy souvenirs, eat delicious food, enjoy the nature beauty and learn about the history and customs of Ise as they explore the streets of this unique area.

For many hundreds of years, the locals have attributed their good healthy life to the grateful feelings of the god of Ise Jingu, and at one point in time, the area welcomed pilgrims from far and wide with warmth and grace. The hospitality shown to those pilgrims of long ago is still deeply rooted in the hearts and minds of the people of Okage Yokocho, and travelers are welcomed and shown the same hospitality that worshipers enjoyed many years ago.

Caption: The shops and restaurants of Okage Yokocho have a traditional atmosphere.

After walking around the shrine grounds and looking at some souvenirs to take home from my visit, I decided to stop for lunch at “Ise Udon Fukusuke”. This restaurant specializes in Ise Udon, the local style of udon noodles that is made with a rich and flavorful dark brown broth. There are various versions available, such as the one with Matsusaka beef, a world-renowned beef that comes from Mie Prefecture. There is a long tradition of travelers eating Ise Udon to fill their stomach while the pilgrimage to Ise Jingu and I was looking forward to trying it for the first time.

The traditional design of Ise Udon Fukusuke is simple and comfortable with low Japanese-style tables. The friendly staff greeted me warmly, showed me to my seat and helped me order right away. I ordered the Matsusaka Beef Ise Udon and I was excited to try a dish similar to the ones that travelers to Ise have been eating for generations during their long journey to the shrine.

Caption: Ise Udon Fukusuke is a beautiful restaurant that specializes in the local style of udon.

Caption: The Matsusaka Beef Ise Udon was as delicious as it looked.

Caption: It was wonderful to have the chance to eat the same food that pilgrims to the shrine have been consuming for many hundreds of years.

The atmosphere of Ise Udon Fukusuke was casual and energetic as the staff quickly served bowl after bowl of Ise Udon to the patrons. The wood tones of the building and decor gave the restaurant a distinctly traditional feel and it was a great lunch experience. When I was finished, my hunger had been satisfied and I was ready to head back out onto the streets of Okage Yokocho to do some more exploring.

When I was finished my lunch, I thanked the restaurant staff for their helpful service and amazing food. I wanted to go for a walk after my meal, so I went to the meandering Isuzugawa (Isuzu River) to take a relaxing stroll along the riverbank. After being in the tourist crowds all morning and eating in the busy restaurant, it was nice to slow down and just enjoy the natural beauty of the area around Ise Jingu.

The Isuzugawa flows through the grounds of Ise Jingu itself and into the city of Ise. There are some bridges connecting both sides of the river and the setting is very relaxing. The mix of the city, traditional buildings, forests and shrines is truly incredible and has so many of the elements that make Japan an interesting country to travel in.

Caption: The riverbank of the Isuzugawa is a popular spot for taking a stroll.

When I felt refreshed from my riverside walk and my udon lunch had settled, I stopped at Isuzugawa Café to have some coffee and something sweet. The cafe has a seating area with a view of the Isuzugawa and I took a comfortable seat looking out over the river as it flowed by serenely.

Caption: The Isuzugawa Cafe serves amazingcoffee and Tiramisu.

I ordered an iced coffee and tiramisu from the friendly server who took my order. As I waited for my order, I sat back and just appreciated the natural beauty outside the cafe window. It had been a special day and I could reflect on my visit to this must see destination in Japan.

Caption: I enjoyed coffee while looking out over the Isuzugawa, and reflected on the history of Ise. 

The rich flavored coffee was exactly what I needed and it complimented the amazing tiramisu perfectly. I was glad that I had delayed my dessert until I found the Isuzugawa Cafe so I could really enjoy the sweet taste of the chocolate. I savored every bite of my cake and every sip of my coffee as the wonderful atmosphere of the cafe washed over me and lulled me into a state of peace.

Caption: The traditional Japanese aesthetic always relaxes me.

In every spot that I went in Ise, I experienced the warm hospitality that the area is famous for. Travelers are truly welcomed with an open heart when they make the journey to Ise Jingu and Okage Yokocho and the locals had helped me make memories to cherish forever.

Caption: The traditional structures of Isuzugawa Cafe take you back in time.

When I was finished at the Isuzugawa Cafe, I spent the rest of my time in Okage Yokocho just enjoying the atmosphere of the city and all of the traditional architecture. Being there was like going back in time to visit the Edo Period. During my visit, I had learned that “Okage” means thankfulness and “Yokocho” is a kind of side street. This name seemed more than appropriate to me considering how successful the area had been for businesses due to the huge number of visitors who make the journey to Ise Jingu every year.

Caption: Passing through Oharaimachi, which connects Okage Yokocho to Ise Grand Shrine.
Oharaimachi is also home to a wide range of shops selling a variety of unique products.

As I stopped in many of the small shops that lined the streets, it seemed like there was an endless variety of things to eat, drink and buy. The bustling crowd flowed smoothly down the streets and it was clear that everyone was enjoying their visit to Okage Yokocho.

My visit to Ise Jingu was incredible and I was thankful to all of the kind people who had helped to make each experience so enjoyable. The spirit of Ise is definitely alive in Okage Yokocho and I am looking forward to when I can return and refresh my soul in this historical and unique part of Japan.

You will be fascinated just by watching the videos of my exploring experience in Okage Yokocho.

For more info about Okage Yokocho

Tourist attractions covered by this article