One of the strongest (though certainly not the only) motivating factors for me in joining this study program was the desire to learn more about the shrines that are located here in Ise—most especially the Grand Shrine (Kōtai Jingū)—which I have taught about in my Intro to Asian Art course but never before visited.
The trip (paired with morning lectures on the layout of the shrine and its proximity to other sacred spaces in and around Ise City) really brought into sharp relief how much the story of the shrine is simplified in the intro course—simplified almost to the point of nonsensicality. So now I'm totally rethinking how I may want to teach this material (in intro and other courses) going forward. The intro classes are fast-paced and somewhat akin to greatest hits albums, but there has to be a way to get more of the history of this space—its changing relationships to Buddhism, to the court government, to the Outer Shrine of Toyouke Jingū in nearby Yamada, Ise—into the lecture because it's completely fascinating.
We left the Momofune (Kogakkan's name for their International Exchange Office) about 11:40 to catch the bus down to the area of Ise known as Uji. The Grand Shrine, site of the Naikū (inner shrine) that is the dwelling place of the sun goddess Amaterasu-o-mi-kami, is located there. You approach it along a stretch of shops that are collected in an area known as Oharaimachi. Our first stop was lunch at a shop in Oharaimachi, where we had an absolutely amazing meal. Seriously, I just cannot stop talking about how delicious it was. We were served Ise Udon (thick udon noodles drizzled with a strong soy sauce and soup stock broth and mixed up with bonito flakes and green onions) and Tekone-zushi (tuna sashimi over rice, garnished with nori, shiso, and ginger). The Ise area—located on the coast of Ise Bay—is famous for its seafood, and the tuna was some of the freshest and most mouth-watering I've ever tasted.
After lunch, we made our way to the Uji Bridge, the entrance to the Grand Shrine, where we were met by a film crew from Local 7 News. Our visit to the shrine was schedule to be filmed for a short interest piece airing as part of the evening's 5:40pm News Broadcast. (More on that in a bit.) Being constantly filmed was definitely different, but I just put the cameraman out of my mind and concentrated on the experience. Fully two-thirds of the Grand Shrine is wooded, and the scenery was achingly beautiful. Even though there were many, many people present, it was possible to feel isolated and deeply grounded within the self, simply through the overwhelming presence of nature on all sides.
Entering the Inner Shrine was a particularly moving experience for me. We were especially lucky to be there in the first few months after the most recent building reconstruction and transfer of the goddess to her new dwelling space. (A number of buildings at the Grand Shrine are reconstructed every twenty years as part of an elaborate ritual process.) The buildings from the previous (1993) reconstruction were still standing, and because of a difference in the elevation between the two adjacent spaces it was possible to catch a glimpse of the previous shrine and really see the effect that twenty years of entropy had had on the earlier structures. It wasn't possible to take pictures within the Inner Shrine precincts, but I was extremely glad to have the chance to take a good long look at the two spaces together. It was completely eye-opening. As an art historian, these are the moments you live for. This is why you do it. And I was absolutely over the moon. After paying our respects to Amaterasu, we wended our way back to the entrance of the shrine, passing a number of minor shrines along the way. (The Grand Shrine is less a single entity and more a collection of smaller individual entities sharing a complex.)
Once finished at the Grand Shrine, the program coordinator took us for tea and akafukumochi (red-bean-paste smothered rice cakes) at the Akafuku Honten. I'm extremely delighted to say that this trip was added to the day's schedule because of my post to Facebook about how much I wanted to try this Ise meibutsu. Our program coordinator is really doing us proud. I don't think I've ever been so well looked after (read: spoiled) in a study program before, and that's the truth. The akafukumochi was unbelievably yummy, with the lovely lightly sweetened flavor of red bean paste and the chewy, chewy, chewiness of mochi. We all sat on tatami mat flooring, gazing out at the tea house garden, and giggling over our respective chewy faces as we pondered the day's activities. It was a lovely way to close out the afternoon.
With the day's outing officially over, we all broke into small groups, and I spent some time wandering the shopping street in Oharaimachi with T. and M.—another participant in the program. We took pictures of the architecture, bought some Ise-only beer (but of course!), and then got soft serve ice cream and tai-yaki for the trip home. At T.'s suggestion, we decided to walk back to the dormitory, which was only about a half-hour's distance on foot, rather than take a bus back. Along the way, we found a number of awesome sights that we would not have seen otherwise.
Back at the dorm, T. and I had enough time for a quick beer and discussion before the 5:40 news broadcast. Everyone piled into the common room on the second floor to watch. And before you ask, yes I was featured, and yes the broadcast was copied. Sort of. One of the girls in the program shot a clandestine video of it on her camera. I believer she's going to send us all copies of it when she has a chance to upload. When she does, I'll post it (with commentary). That's a promise.
Lots more to come, but for now, it's time to settle in for the night. I'm bushed!