Discovering Hidden Treasure in Mie
By Ellen Randall. Posted on March 1, 2013
After visiting all of Japan’s most famous attractions, such as those in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, and assuming I had uncovered most of Japan, I was in for a very pleasant surprise when I began to explore more around Nagoya. The Chubu region is right in the centre of Japan. This weekend, I am lucky enough to have travelled to Mie prefecture. Mie is rich in history, culture and natural beauty.
After a Kintetsu express train ride and CAN Bus trip, we arrived at Ise Inner Shrine (Ise Jingu Naiku). There was a large “torii” gate and continued to cross over a large bridge. In the distance, I saw a Japanese flag flying high across the beautiful scenery that surrounded us. I knew I was about to experience something very spiritual and a place that is held close in the hearts of Japanese people. We continued to walk through a garden and through an ancient forest. The air was really fresh, despite it being a weekend and a little crowded. It was so refreshing, and my mind felt so much clearer and relaxed from the scenery. We arrived at a communal washbasin where we cleansed our hands and washed our mouths to cleanse ourselves in preparation for prayer.
After visiting a shrine and praying to the gods of Shinto, we then visited a nearby shopping district, Okage Yokocho, for lunch where we ate delicious tempura and admired a nearby famous traditional confectionary shop. The very large 300-year-old building was swarming with people carrying pink packages of Mie’s special Akafuku rice cake, which represents the special Isuzu River that runs through Ise Jingu.
Our group then split, and I went to visit Dolphin Island (Iruka Jima). However, unfortunately, as the weather was very windy and cold, I was unable to enter Dolphin Island. But I was still so curious to see more of Japan’s seaside, so instead, I went on a boat ride around the island and all the small islands around the coast of Mie. I enjoyed drinking a nice warm hot chocolate on the ride and viewing an unfamiliar coastline that looked very different from Australia. Afterwards, I returned to land and tested these Akafuku I had heard so much fuss about. The cake is very sweet, but with a nice cup of green tea, it is the perfect treat for afternoon snack time.
We then regrouped and continued on to our hotel, Nemu no Sato in Shima. This place is massive and takes up an entire peninsula. It was really nice to be somewhere so open and spacious for a change, which was something I had given up looking for in a place like Japan. The hotel has a very large list of facilities, including golf, go-karting, archery, a pool with waterslides, and even a boat ramp and marine sports activities. On a cold snowy night like this, though, I was interested in a good meal and a nice long soak in a thermal spa. Dinner was buffet-style and had a very large range of dishes to choose from. The spa had many floors and included a rooftop bath and sauna. I could see the stars very clearly from the rooftop, and the natural landscaping of the spa and peaceful music playing was tranquil. After such a long day of travel, this was heaven.
The next day, we traveled to Mikimoto Pearl Island (Shinju Shima) and watched in awe as the ama women divers dove gracefully from a boat into freezing cold water to retrieve sea products. They made a whistling sound as they came up from the surface to help them breathe correctly. It was really interesting to watch and listen to them dive. We were also treated to a cozy special viewing room allocated only for foreigners visiting to see the diving, and an information tape about the divers played to us in English while we watched.
Up next was the Pearl Museum. This place was very special, as this is where the first cultured pearls were ever created. Previously I had never really given much thought into how pearls are made or the history behind them, but after hearing about this place at the beginning of my journey, I had been wondering curiously. We learned about Kokichi Mikimoto, his successful mission to create pearls for the first time on earth, and the intricate process of creating a perfect pearl. Afterwards, we continued to view more of the exhibit and see the incredible pieces of jewelry and works of art that contained not only pearls, but diamonds, rubies, gold and more. It was amazing to see such expensive works of beauty, which I would never be able to afford in my lifetime unless I was suddenly crowned queen of England.
We then took a short walk to Toba Aquarium. I was very impressed here. Honestly, it is the best aquarium I have ever been to! Australia sets a very high standard for showing off marine animals, as much of our tourism depends on it, but everything was perfect at Toba Aquarium. It was very clean, had great lighting, and exhibited incredible animals that were rare and from all over the world. I could not fault this place. Another thing I really liked about this aquarium was it was obvious they had made an extra effort in places to let the animals be as close to you as you can get. For example, on the rooftop there was a penguin exhibit, of which was only half was enclosed, and half set on a waterfall stage. So the animals had their privacy if they wanted it, but as I walked past, I got as close to a fat, lazy penguin as I ever have before. My highlight of this aquarium was seeing a finless porpoise stare right back at me from directly behind the glass. It made my heart stop every time she swam past and stopped to look at me. There was something so intelligent and human about her, and it was incredible to see such a magnificent animal so close I could have been in the water with her! I will definitely be back for another visit soon.
I encourage you to come and see Mie for yourself! If you want to explore something unique and exciting about Japan, there is so much here to see.
Ellen Randall is an Australian arts/law student at the University of New England. Ellen has a passion for Japanese culture and travel. After visiting Japan a couple of times, she is interested in becoming more familiar with Japan and discovering its “hidden gems.” She likes drawing and enjoys watching Japanese movies and anime. Ellen also loves animals and horseback riding, and really enjoys visiting zoos and aquariums.