Cycling around Mie’s Historic Town: Meiwacho

Cycling around Mie’s Historic Town: Meiwacho

For my first day in Mie, I visited the historic town of Meiwacho!

For a small town overshadowed between 2 big cities: Matsusaka and Ise, Meiwacho had so much to offer and played an incredibly important role in Japan’s history.

We rented some electric bicycles to explore the town and stopped by many different places. We started off the day with stretches at a historic gazebo, tried out the local specialties, visited a shrine and tried out some of its experiences, learned about Meiwacho’s past at the historical museum, and finally took a tour around a sake brewery and attempted a taste testing game with 3 of their finest produces.

We have a long day ahead of us so let’s get started!

The Best Way to Explore Meiwacho

A small walk away from Saiku station is Take Jinja, the main shrine of the town, and we made our first stop here to rent E-bikes and ride around town.

Since I’m in the middle of cycling across Japan, I’ve spent many hours on a bicycle, but I’ve never tried an electric bicycle so I was excited to see how it feels.

We hopped on our E-bikes and made our way to explore the town.

First Stop, Heian no Mori

First Stop, Heian no Mori
To start off the E-Bike tour of Meiwacho, we came over to Heian no Mori Park, a wide plaza area with restored structures from the 9th-century Heian period.

There are 3 structures in total.

Besides the restored Govemment office, you are allowed to enter the other 2 and they even offer a VR or tablet tour that lets you relive the 9th century at this location. However, we didn’t come to learn about the Heian period or try the VR tour.

Oddly enough, we came here to do some morning stretches.

One of the structures is a Heian-style gazebo and there were yoga mats in the corner, so we used those to do our morning exercise.

To be honest, it felt a bit out of place to be doing stretches at a historic site at first, but it was actually the perfect spot.

It was outside but we had a roof over us to protect us from the summer heat or rain. Also, the structure created this wind tunnel that collects nearby winds to keep us cool while we stretch in this peaceful environment.

I mean how often do you get the opportunity to exercise at a 1000-year-old site? Perhaps this is how people exercised back in the day (minus the yoga mats).

The Local Specialty of Meiwacho

What I love about traveling in Japan is the local specialties you can discover in just about any town and I was excited to try one in Meiwacho.

After our morning stretch, we headed over to Penguin Cafe to replenish our body’s nutrients.

Penguin Cafe was a small, local stylish cafe and they only served one item for lunch: the Hijiki Curry Set.

Hijiki is a specialty of Ise, the neighboring city, and it’s a type of seaweed that’s typically served in side dishes and filled with minerals and nutrients.

This was my first time seeing it used in a meal, so I was quite curious how it would taste.

The curry was lighter than your usual Japanese curry but at the same time, it didn’t have an overwhelming seaweed taste to it. You can tell that they worked hard to achieve this balance. To top it off, it was served with turmeric rice.

And needless to say, the coffee was delicious as well.

Thoughts on the E-Bike

At this point, we’ve been riding the E-bikes for a while and it’s definitely a new experience.

Different from other electric vehicles, the electricity is there to only assist the pedaling and it can’t accelerate on its own. This particular one had 5 different levels you can choose from and even the lowest power mode was enough to clear slopes without breaking a sweat.

For fun, I tried setting the power output to maximum and it was so powerful that even slightly touching the pedal shot the bicycle forward.

Honestly, I can ride these all day.

Saiku Historical Museum

Saiku Historical Museum
One lunch and bicycle ride later, we arrived at the Saiku Historical Museum to learn about the history of Meiwacho and its role in the Nara Period.

To be honest, I haven’t visited too many museums in Japan, the reason being the language barrier. Despite my Japanese being fluent enough for everyday life, reading unfamiliar Kanji is a slow process and can take away from the museum experience if there’s no English assistance.

Not only did the Saiku Historical Museum have English descriptions, but they also had an app that made the visiting experience much smoother.

Once we arrived, they asked us to download the museum’s app which acts as a tour guide while you walk through the museum, and it has 7 different languages including English.

With the app open, you use Bluetooth to connect with the nearby exhibitions and you can learn about the exhibit in the video, audio, or written format. On top of that, the app has a map of the museum and provides various courses to choose from, such as the quick course, full course, and different courses based on the topic.

Since we were a bit tight on schedule, we tried out the quick course to get a quick summary of the Saiku history. In the hour that we were there, I thoroughly enjoyed the museum and was surprised by how much I had learned in the short amount of time.

A Quick History Lesson

A Quick History Lesson
The famous Ise Jingu in Ise is a shrine dedicated to Amaterasu-Omikami, the sun goddess.

During this period, there was the Saio; Young, unmarried princesses that played an important role in worshiping the god and dedicated their lives to the Amaterasu-Omikami god.

The present-day Meiwacho was built at the exact site where the Saiku palace was, where the Saio princesses lived. While the Saiku palace didn’t stand against the test of time, many of the remains and traditions from that time period are well preserved and spread out across Meiwacho.

It’s interesting to see how such a small town played such a big role in Japanese history!

Visiting the Take Shrine

Visiting the Take Shrine
After taking a lap around various parts of Meiwacho, we made our way back to Take Jinja to finally return our E-bikes and explore the shrine itself.

We started off with learning the proper Shinto shrine etiquettes. I’ve visited many shrines while traveling around Japan but never learned the proper way to visit the shrine so this was perfect timing.

They walked me through every process, starting with walking through the Chinowa ring, etiquettes when entering the shrine, and finally the proper way to pray at the shrine.

Full Moon Festival

Every month, during the full moon, Take Jinja has an event called the Full Moon festival where they light up many lanterns and flowers to resemble the full moon.

Before the festival, they allow visitors to arrange flower bowls and assist the bamboo lantern-making process and I got to try both.

For the flower arrangement, you receive a bowl full of water and an assortment of flowers that are currently in season. All the flowers are harvested locally and supported by the townspeople of Meiwa.
The flowers are all harvested locally to support the Meiwacho citizens. My decoration skills aren’t the best, but I managed to create something simple and clean!

Next was the bamboo lantern making.

There’s a whole process of cutting, refining, and carving to go from bamboo tree to brightly lit lantern. The whole process would take a couple of hours so I got to experience the first step which is cutting and refining the bamboo.

The shrine doesn’t use any power tools, so everything was done by hand and it felt like a very fun DIY project. During the festival, there are hundreds of bamboo lanterns out, so the shrine really puts a lot of effort into the lanterns!

I can’t wait to come back to the shrine during the festival!

Taste Testing at a Sake Brewery

Taste Testing at a Sake Brewery
Even without our bikes, the traveling didn't stop because our next stop was a local sake factory called Asahi Shuzou. Clean, natural water is required in order to make sake and this particular factory has been around for over a century. That goes to show the purity of nature that exists in Meiwacho!

Tourist attractions covered by this article