Beyond Nara, between the mountains and the coast, is a peninsula of land where the very oldest of Japanese history can be found. I haven't visited Asuka and the true cradle of Japanese civilisation yet, but the city of Ise in Mie prefecture is a beautiful, holy place just absolutely seeped in history and spiritualism.
It took me the best part of a day to travel from Nara and arrive at my hostel. I checked in, dropped off my bags and said hi to the staff and the couple of Dutch guys who arrived the same night as me. My hostel, Yumebito House, turned out to be a great place to stay with a homely atmosphere and a habit of cooking and eating big meals together every night.
Before dinner, though, I wanted to walk to the river and follow it down to the coast. It didn't look too far on google maps and I figured it would be a good way to spend my afternoon. As it happened, I was walking for four hours and made it back just in time to eat sushi and drink beers. It was worth it though, a beautiful coastline and a wonderful town.
The next day, I set out to visit the main "site", Ise's Grand Shrine. The unique part here is that rather than being one structure, Ise's shrines all form a grand shrine collectively. Around a hundred structures and buildings spread across the length of the town, the biggest of them nestled into abundant forests.
Here in Ise is where the Shinto religion really lives up to its reputation for balance with nature. Woods and streams feel as much a part of the temple structure as the man made buildings, and traditions of millenia are kept alive by devotees.
Visiting on the Sunday of Golden Week, lots and lots of families were visiting to make genuine prayers, so I didn't feel appropriate or comfortable taking lots of pictures and sticking my nose in. Nonetheless, the shrines were gorgeous and the 6 kilometre walk between the two main locations was a really nice stroll through amazing scenery.
Near the southernmost grand shrine is a street of traditional wooden buildings which had a really wonderful holiday feel to it, stalls selling religious paraphernalia and jewellery side by side with barbecues and sweets.
I had intended to follow up the walk between these shrines with a trip to the very Northeast of Ise and the Meoto Iwa shrine, a picturesque and iconic pair of rocks just out to sea from a beautiful collection of statues and gates. Unfortunately, I stopped off at my hostel and immediately fell asleep for three hours. A combination of a monster hangover and days of hiking can do that to you.
I made sure to wake up the following morning and catch the shrine before leaving Ise, though. It really is iconic; a postcard moment of Japan.
After that, though, it was a long old train ride back to Kyoto. Golden Week was over and I no longer had any excuse to procrastinate in actually sorting out some kind of work and longer-term accommodation.