"Ise's Reason for Being"
This is Shinto's Holy City (神都) or "Capital of the Kami" meaning Ise is the main center for modern Shinto, Japan's oldest and one of it's largest belief systems apart from it's other large belief system Buddhism which we won't get into here. Shinto
is the way of the gods and Ise City is the capital of those gods. Specifically, Ise City
today is the home of the Japanese royal ancestral god Amaterasu omikami (the sun goddess).
For those of you who aren't in the know, much of Japanese culture centers historically around Shinto and the sun goddess. The Japanese emperor and his family are said to be descendants of Amaterasu. And the flag of Japan represents that of the sun (Amateresu). Also, Japan's war-time flag was also represented by a red sun with solid beams extending from it's center.
When we first arrived at Ise "Town" I had this quizzical feeling of where has my wife taken us. As we got out of the train station, we both felt like we had stepped into the boondocks of wherever we were much like Makimachi is to Niigata City where we live. Ise seemed small. And part of that feeling was because we didn't see any of the common city elements we usually see in bigger Japanese cities.
Fortunately, Ise isn't as bad as our first impression led us to believe, not that there would be anything wrong with it being more country-ish, it's just that... that is not what we were expecting. Compared to the big cities of Japan, Ise doesn't have much feeling for much going on. It turns out, however, that there is some kind of night life and high school students here are just as busy as they are elsewhere in Japan but, Ise seems to have avoided a lot of what so many other larger and similar sized cities in Japan have come to represent.
Key point: We didn't see any McDonald's (as it turns out there is one but, we didn't see it around any of the places we went to). And for that matter, as far as we could tell, there weren't any other fast food restaurants around either (as far as we could tell). This may say a lot about the city in a number of ways. Perhaps, it speaks of how conservative the Mie city council must be to resist attempts at McDonald's or Starbuck's, preferable by their standards, commercialization. Or, on the hand, it could be that Ise is so hardly known to the outside world that corporations just haven't found it on the map (well, now I know at least McDonald's knows about Ise). Most likely, the city council is trying to preserve what Ise is supposed to represent.
The people are really friendly in Ise. Surprisingly, I didn't get any stares and no one seemed to be surprised I could speak Japanese either. People were so kind and helpful.
One old woman offered for me to sit down next to her on a bus (I never experienced that in Niigata!). My wife apologized as I'm big. The old woman said, no problem she's really thin.
In another case, as we were waiting for a bus, a man stopped and offered us a ride to the inner shrine because he had seen us at eating at the same restaurant as he was the night before. As it turns out, he is a member of Ise City council and he was going there anyway as he needed to be present for the opening of Ise Inner Shrine's newest bridge that very same day we were going there.