Hinjitsukan and Meoto Iwa: A Froggy Stroll Along the Coast of the Ise Bay

Hinjitsukan and Meoto Iwa: A Froggy Stroll Along the Coast of the Ise Bay

Ise City, along the coast of the Ise Bay, is home to a plethora of stunning sights and experiences, all steeped in ancient Japanese mythology and Shinto mysticism. I took a train down to quaint Futaminoura Station one evening to have a look around.
Hinjitsukan and Meoto Iwa are must-see stops if you’re anywhere around Nagoya or Mie, especially if you’re in town to see Ise Shrine.

Written by Chad Martin
-Author's Introduction
My otaku side brought me to Nagoya, Japan in 2012, but I stayed for the food, countryside towns, and gorgeous mountain scenery. I was born and raised on the east coast of the US, but I dare say I never grew up. I never shut up about Japan.

Hinjitsukan first opened its doors in 1887. A hurried construction saw the building completed in time to host Empress Eisho that same year. In 1891 the young man who would become Emperor Taisho was sent to stay for nearly a month. He spent his time at this stately establishment swimming nearby and working on staying healthy. 

Caption: The building has gone through a number of renovations and expansions, but at its core, the original structure remains.

The Hinjitsukan that you see today is the product of the renovations of the 1930’s. The architects clearly managed to retain the original atmosphere of the place. Once you have a look around inside, you too will get a sense that you’re back in the 1800’s. 

Caption: A nook looking out over the garden, from within the quarters where Emperor Taisho made his stay.

Caption: A small bridge cuts through the courtyard and connects two wings of the building. The small passageways, low lighting, and smooth wooden structure make for a setting that takes you back through history. 

The engineering and craftsmanship that it took to put a structure like this together out of wood is truly impressive. From wooden slats along the floorboards that could be adjusted to control air flow, to charming details like the frog carvings on the first floor banister, there are hints all over that this was intended to be a work of art as much as a functional and accommodating hotel.

Frogs are the mascots of sorts of Hinjitsukan and Meoto Iwa. You’ll see so many of them! These guys and the banister they’re on were all carved out of a single piece of wood. 

By far, the most impressive thing about Hinjitsukan for me was seeing the banquet hall on the second floor. I never would’ve guessed that something so grand could even fit inside the building. 

Added as part of the renovations in 1930, the massive, golden hall seemed to me to be a symbol of the Westernization of Japan. Tatami floors and a stage for traditional performances, but lit by gilded chandeliers shining with the influence of European extravagance. 
In 2003, a non-profit organization began managing the building and reopened it to the public as a museum. Then in 2010, it became officially recognized as an important cultural asset of Japan.

Before you skip down the road to Meoto Iwa, be sure to take a moment to float around the gardens and get some good shots of the building. A leisurely stroll through peaceful Japanese gardens is good for your heart. So says I.

Once you’ve had your fill, stroll down the road for just a few minutes along the coast to the entrance of Meoto Iwa. Although it’s a famous place to see the sunrise, I’ve visited at different times and seasons, and it’s always gorgeous.

Caption: I often mention the local manhole covers in my articles about Japan. They truly are works of art. This one depicts the sun rising over Meoto Iwa.

Nobody seems sure if they should say “Meoto Iwa”, or translate the name into “the Married Rocks” or “the Wedded Rocks”, but when in Rome, right? Meoto Iwa is one of the most iconic sights of Japan. 

The waters here are said to be very pure. There’s even an ancient practice called “Hamasangu”, which is when worshipers bound for Ise Shrine would come here to first purify themselves in the waters before continuing on their pilgrimage. 

Caption: This fine young man guards the way to the shrine. I hope you’re on your best behavior.

Walking through the torii gate at the entrance transports you to the divine realm and puts you on the path toward Futamiokitama Shrine. But first you’ll pass Amanoiwaya, a cave where the sun god Amaterasu once hid from the world, leaving it plunged into darkness. As it’s a sacred place, you can’t go in, but stop by to say a quick prayer. 

Caption: This is Amanoiwaya, Amaterasu’s safe space.

“Yeah, but why frogs though?” Okay, so you gotta know that Japan absolutely loves puns. You see, the Japanese word for frog is “kaeru”, but “kaeru” can also mean “go home” or “return something”. So by going to all the nice froggy boys around the area and rubbing their heads, saying a prayer, or even pouring water over them at the fountain, you can get a blessing to protect you on your travels home, or to get back something that you lent to someone. 

Caption: See, I did it and I’m writing this from home now. A friend of mine even returned a video game I lent them years ago! This metal one was a popular guy. He got lots of head rubs from visitors. Good boy.

Ahead is Futamiokitama Shrine, where you can stop to say a prayer or buy a protective charm. I saw a lot of shrine maidens and priests shuffling around the area. Be sure to take a peek inside before you march onward toward the grand finale.

Caption: Those froggy bois just stare at you while you try to take it all in. 

The husband rock is nine meters tall. His wife is four meters. They are wrapped up in thirty-five meters of marital bonds, which are changed a few times a year. That’s gotta be a pretty dangerous job...

Seawater splashes against the rocks below the platform and sometimes sprays mist onto the gathered onlookers. Everyone there was in high spirits though. Helping each other get good photos with their families, echoes of “Samui ne?!” (Chilly, ain’t it?!), and a man even approached me wanting to chat in English about where I’d come all the way from to see this. 

Tourist attractions covered by this article