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photo of Ise-Shima National Park

Ago Bay


Ise Jingu, a site where a long, splendid, multifaceted history unfolds.
Satoyama and Satoumi, a land of enrichment interweaved with the workings of people and nature.
Date of Designation: November 20, 1946
Area: 55,544 ha
Related Prefecture: Mie


Ise-Shima National Park covers central Mie Prefecture, including most of the Shima Peninsula. It spans a vast area of almost 60,000 hectares. The inland area of the park boasts gentle mountain slopes and lush green forests that surround Ise Jingu, Japan's most important jinja (Shinto shrine) complex. Its precincts are seen as the heart of Japanese spirituality. The topographically varied coastline ranges from rugged outcrops to ancient rock ledges and sandy beaches. Unlike most national parks, Ise-Shima has a relatively large proportion of private land, and significant populations in four cities: Ise City, Toba City, Shima City, and Minami-Ise Town. The lives, history, culture, and customs of Ise-Shima's people are deeply connected to the park's natural landscapes. Since ancient times, they have lived with nature and respected the environment.
photo of Kyuikirin (precinct forest)

Kyuikirin (precinct forest)

photo of Ago Bay

Ago Bay

Ise Jingu nestles in protected forests. The jinja complex was founded about 2,000 years ago. It is at the heart of Japan's Shinto religion. The precinct buildings include the Naiku, which enshrines Amaterasu-Omikami, the sun deity and ancestor of the imperial family, and Geku, which enshrines Toyo'uke-no-Omikami (the deity of food, clothing, and shelter), as well as 125 affiliated jinja in the Ise-Shima area.
photo of The Ujibashi Bridge of Ise Jingu. Photo by Jingushicho

The Ujibashi Bridge of Ise Jingu. Photo by Jingushicho

With the verdant trees and the clear waters of the Isuzugawa River, it is easy to see why this area was chosen as a sanctuary for deities. Ise-Shima's rivers bring nutrients from the forest down to the sea. This fertile natural environment means that Ise-Shima's seafood has had a reputation for high quality since ancient times when it was served to the imperial family. Today, Ise-Shima's seafood continues to be renowned, and thousands of ancient ceremonies giving thanks to the deities continue to be performed.
photo of Isuzugawa River

Isuzugawa River

The importance of conserving abundant sea-life populations can be seen in the many rules observed by communities of female divers known as ama. Ise-Shima's ama, who harvest various types of seaweed and shellfish from the ocean floor (without the aid of breathing apparatus), are thought to have been a part of the region's history for at least 3,000 years. Many areas have their own ama community who have strict rules concerning diving and harvesting practices. In general, abalone can be harvested only if they are over 10.6 cm long. If the abalone is bigger than this, the size indicates that it is over three years old, and has had a chance to breed at least once. The locations where ama can dive, and permitted times, are strictly regulated. Such rules have allowed ama to harvest shellfish and seaweed sustainably for centuries. Ise-Shima National Park offers the chance to observe the divers and their ancient customs firsthand. Visitors can also enjoy freshseafood caught and cooked by an ama in one of their huts. There is also an activity program allowing visitors to dive with an ama.
photo of Ama (female diver)

Ama (female diver)

More recently, satoyama and satoumi conservation movements have adopted the ancient idea of living alongside and respecting nature. Satoyama is a Japanese term for an area of land where people work to conserve local ecosystems, ensuring that the natural environment is used in a sustainable way. Likewise, satoumi refers to a marine area which is managed similarly. Visitors can gain an understanding of this way of thinking themselves by joining one of the many eco-tourism activities. These include cycling tours, guided walking tours of island fishing communities, hiking along nature trails, exploring the inlets of Ago Bay's intricate coast or other bays by sea kayak, bird watching, and last, but certainly not least, observing the myriad stars that are visible here at night.
photo of Sea kayak

Sea kayak


Ise-Shima National Park's landscape is characterized by lush forests, mountains, steep cliffs, fragmented coastlines, and a contrast between the calm bays and inlets, and the rough Pacific Ocean. These landforms enrich Ise-Shima's marine life and strengthen people's connection to the sea. The ria (a drowned river valley which remains open to the sea) coastline seen in Ago Bay is thought to have been formed by various factors. During the last glacial period, sea levels rose, causing river valleys to be drowned. This process formed interestingly shaped islands. These small islands were originally raised beaches along the original coast. Today, many areas are covered in a variety of broad-leaved evergreen trees. These forests thrive in the mild climate influenced by the Kuroshio Current. The bays are enriched by nutrients carried down from the forests by the rivers. This allows thick beds of seaweed to grow and nurtures marine life. It also makes Ise-Shima's sheltered bays a great place for pearl farming. Pearl rafts can be seen everywhere.
photo of The ria coast in Ago Bay as seen from Yokoyama

The ria coast in Ago Bay as seen from Yokoyama

Ise-Shima's coastline is distinguished not only by its forms but also by the striated rocks. These patterns were formed over a long period by plate tectonics. An ocean plate is moving downwards under Ise-Shima, beneath the continental plate. The continuous movement of the plates against each other causes layers of sedimentary rock on the seabed to be pushed up onto the land. Ise-Shima's complex geology is characterized by rocks that are eroded at different rates by wave action and the flow of rivers. These geological factors have resulted in a coastline characterized by rias.
photo of Striated rocks in Oisohama

Striated rocks in Oisohama

From numerous viewpoints throughout Ise-Shima National Park, these natural wonders can be fully appreciated. The summit of Ise-Shima National Park's highest mountain, Mt. Asama, allows visitors a panoramic view of the area and has a veritable cornucopia of plants.
photo of Toba Bay as seen from Mt. Asama View Point

Toba Bay as seen from Mt. Asama View Point

Yokoyama Picnic Site's many observation areas offer different perspectives on Ago Bay's jagged coastlines, seas, and woods. Visit the Ugura Peninsula's observation points to see the heart-shaped inlet--a popular, romantic spot. Other landscapes include sea caves and lagoons (such as the one that can be appreciated from the Nankai View Point).
photo of Blooming azaleas in Yokoyama View Point

Blooming azaleas in Yokoyama View Point

photo of Mieshima View Point, Ugura Picnic Site

Mieshima View Point, Ugura Picnic Site

photo of Oka Niwahama Beach as seen from Nankai View Point

Oka Niwahama Beach as seen from Nankai View Point

Kamishima Island has an unusual karst limestone coast. A combination of groundwater and rain have eroded the white stone into distinctive jagged peaks. The bright, white rocks of this natural wonder create a striking contrast with the surrounding sea and greenery.
photo of Limestone Karst in Kamishima Island

Limestone Karst in Kamishima Island

The inland areas of Ise-Shima feature mountains and thick, green forests- especially around Ise Jingu, the most important jinja (Shinto shrine) complex in Japan. In 1923, a 200-year cypress-planting project was established by Ise Jingu's secretariat. The aims of this plan are to conserve Ise Jingu's own forest and to ensure that it will be able to provide Ise Jingu with a sustainable supply of cypress for rebuilding the jinja every twenty years. These efforts include trimming the cypress trees to promote growth. This pruning also allows more light to enter the forest, in turn allowing young trees and small plants to flourish. Forest management has made the ground in this area more absorbent, thus providing a natural way to prevent river flooding. Although Ise Jingu's forest is not open to the public, there are many other forested areas of Ise-Shima that can be explored. Hiking through these areas one is sure to see many types of plants and observe a range of bird species and their habits.
photo of View from Mt. Aonomine

View from Mt. Aonomine

photo of Trails in Mt. Aonomine

Trails in Mt. Aonomine

Thanks to the warm Kuroshio Current that flows offshore from the Kumano Sea, there are many relatively warm days and only short periods of frost in the winter.


Mountain and Forest Flora: Ise-Shima's mountains are mostly covered in evergreen forest. Old-growth plant life remains only in the conserved area of the forest of Ise Jingu, the most important jinja (Shinto shrine) complex in Japan. Evergreen broad-leaved trees (laurel forest) including species of oak mix with coniferous trees such as Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) and momi fir (Abies firma). The hinoki cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) is grown either naturally or in the afforested areas. This timber is used to rebuild the jinja complex of Ise Jingu at the ceremony called Shikinen Sengu.
photo of Evergreen broad-leaved trees (laurel forest)

Evergreen broad-leaved trees (laurel forest)

Second-growth forest occupies much of the area in the Ise-Shima National Park. People have used this resource for a long time. Ubame-gashi oak (Quercus phillyraeoides) grows here. This is used as a raw material for charcoal. Other trees that can grow on poor soils, such as the Japanese red pine (Pinus densiflora), are also found here.
Bonsai (miniature) versions of unusual plants can be seen around the summit of Mt. Asama and Sugashima Island's Mt. Oyama due to its serpentinous rock. Rare plants such as jingu tsutsuji (Rhododendron sanctum), can also be found here.
Flowering Plants:
In the Ise-Shima National Park, beautiful flowering plants can be seen in every season. In the early spring, pale purple kobanomitsuba tsutsuji (Rhododendron reticulatum), a species of azalea, bloom in a number of areas including the Yokoyama Picnic Site and Tomoyama Park.
photo of Kobanomitsuba tsutsuji (Rhododendron reticulatum)

Kobanomitsuba tsutsuji (Rhododendron reticulatum)

The bamboo lily (Lilium japonicum), a species native to Japan, grows in mountainous areas and forests with open canopies. Its pale pink flowers bloom around June to July. They are found in areas where the ecosystem is well managed, such as in Isobe Town in Shima. The yabutsubaki (Camellia japonica) is one of the commonly seen indigenous plants in the Ise-Shima area. Visitors can enjoy tunnels of the trees with their bright red blooming flowers on Mt. Konpira in winter.
Coastal Plants:
There are seemingly endless sand beaches in Ise-Shima, such as Shima's Koshirahama and Hironohama. Interesting plants found only in beach areas grow here. Beaches are not generally suitable for plants, because the sea breezes shift sand, strong sunlight dries the plants out, and the salt content is very high. However, coastal plants are well adapted to growing in this environment. Poison bulb (Crinum asiaticum) is a large, one-meter high perennial grass with white flowers that bloom around July and August. Poison bulb has been used as a symbol on posters and stamps for a long time around the Ise-Shima National Park. Hamabo (Hibiscus hamabo) blooms yellow at the beginning of August at Gokasho Bay, Ago Bay, and Matoya Bay.
photo of Poison bulb (Crinum asiaticum)

Poison bulb (Crinum asiaticum)

photo of Hamabo (Hibiscus hamabo)

Hamabo (Hibiscus hamabo)

Ocean Plants:
Shallow seas with depths of about 20 to 30 meters stretch from Ise Bay to Sakishima Peninsula in Shima City. Particular species of seaweed and seagrass grow here thanks to the sunlight reaching the bottom.
photo of Seaweed beds of Kajime (Ecklonia cava</em>)

Seaweed beds of Kajime (Ecklonia cava)

Hijiki (Sargassum fusiforme) and agar weed (Gelidiaceae) are found in the rocky coast. Arame (Eisenia arborea) and akamoku (Sargassum horneri) grow in shallow reef areas, whilst kajime (Ecklonia cava) grows in the deeper waters. Seagrasses, such as eelgrass (Zostera marina), flourish in the salt marshes and on the sandy beaches.
Rare Plant Phenomena:
Rare ecological phenomena can be seen in Ise-Shima National Park. On Mt. Oyama on Sugashima Island, the Japanese boxwood (Buxus microphylla var. japonica) boasts red leaves in winter. These form a thick, red carpet on the ground and create a stark contrast to the blue sea. This plant is known as beni-tsuge in Japanese, the change of this normally evergreen plant to such a vibrant red color is truly beautiful. There are only a few places in Japan where one can see this wonderful sight.
photo of ed leaves of Japanese boxwood (Buxus microphylla var. japonica)

Red leaves of Japanese boxwood (Buxus microphylla var. japonica)


Sea Life:
Along Ise-Shima National Park's coastline, rocky reefs, seaweed beds, tidal flats, and beaches provide habitats for a range of wildlife. The rocky reefs that run from the edge of the beach to the ocean floor are home to abalone and the Japanese spiny lobster, which hide in the gaps between the rocks. Seaweed beds provide nourishment and shelter for many sea creatures, making it a great area for fishing.
photo of Abalone


In the intertidal zone, fascinating worlds can be discovered in rock pools at low tide. Tidepool inhabitants include small fish, sea anemone, crabs, starfish, and sea urchins, various types of shellfish and sea slugs, as well as other small marine creatures. Large intertidal areas can be explored in many places in Ise-Shima National Park, including at Arajima in Toba City, Shioshikahama in Shima City, and Asoura in Minami-Ise Town.
photo of Tidepooling


Loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) lay their eggs on summer nights along the quiet sandy beaches facing the Pacific and Ise Bay. Local residents help protect them.
photo of Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)

Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)

On summer nights, beaches with gentler waves are alive with the vivid blue lights and otherworldly beauty of sea fireflies, a type of plankton.
Various seabird species feeding on fish and crustaceans are found near the coast. Great cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) can be seen all year round. These black birds often gather in large numbers around Ise Bay and large river estuaries. The sight of flocks with hundreds of birds is spectacular. Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) are often seen in Ise-Shima during winter. They glide over the sea until they spot their prey, then dive to catch fish in their sharp talons.
photo of Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus)

Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus)

Kentish plovers (Charadrius alexandrinus) nest on sandy beaches. Their eggs look very similar to the surrounding sand and pebbles. These brown and white birds can be seen running back and forth along the sandy beaches, suddenly stopping and changing direction to catch insects and small crabs. Visitors may also enjoy viewing the many seagulls such as black-tailed gulls (Larus crassirostris) on boat trips. Seagulls are the designated bird of Toba City--it is easy to see why, as these gulls follow the sightseeing boats on Toba Bay.
photo of Black-tailed gulls (Larus crassirostris)

Black-tailed gulls (Larus crassirostris)

Ise-Shima National Park features a wide range of environments, allowing many species of insects that can be found only in specific habitats to thrive. Along the shore, a species of Hydrophilidae and rove beetles (Staphylinidae) can be spotted feeding on seaweed that has been washed onto the beaches. The brackish waters of the estuaries and tidal flats provide a habitat for rare insects such as the four-spot midget (Mortonagrion hirosei), a damselfly which can live in saline marshes, as well as small diving beetles. In Minami-Ise's wetlands, more than 50 species of dragonfly have been recorded. They include hachou-tombo (Nannophya pygmaea), one of the smallest dragonflies in the world.
photo of Hachou-tombo (Nannophya pygmaea)

Hachou-tombo (Nannophya pygmaea)

The mountains of Ise-Shima National Park are inhabited by many animals, including deer, wild boar, and Japanese macaque monkeys. Some of these animals are considered pests due to the damage they do to crops and are subject to control programs. In satoyama areas, where people work to conserve local ecosystems by using environmental resources sustainably, a wider range of animals can be spotted. These include raccoon dogs, hares, foxes, and badgers.
photo of wild boar

wild boar

In Ise Bay and Toba Bay, Finless Porpoises (Neophocaena phocaenoides) can be sighted from boats and from the coast.


Food Culture:
Ise-Shima is famous for its seafood, and there are many opportunities for fishing and related activities for visitors. Fishing boat tours of Ago Bay allow visitors to catch fish such as horse mackerel, with chances of catching improved with expert advice from the boatmen. Similar tours are offered on Sugashima Island. From January to March, wakame seaweed harvesting excursions are available. In Minami-Ise, visitors can try other fishing-related activities, such as rides on fishing boats and feeding farmed sea bream.
photo of Fishery experience

Fishery experience

In Ise-Shima an activity program allows travelers to experience local culture, including visiting an ama diver's hut. This is a building where, traditionally, female divers known as ama relaxed, chatted and warmed themselves in front of a fire after diving. Ama have played an important role in Ise-Shima's culture for centuries, and today the majority of Japan's remaining ama live in this area. Visitors can relax around the hut's central fire pit while an ama cooks fresh, seasonal seafood in front of them. These are rare opportunities to meet divers in a traditional setting and to hear their stories. In summer, those who would like to learn more about them can participate in dives with an ama.
photo of Ama hut experience

Ama hut experience

Water Sports and Activities:
From mid-April to September, visitors can enjoy many water activities in the calmer seas of the bays. Going on a sea kayak or a paddleboard tours allows visitors to explore the inlets along the coastline and some of the many islands. The fully guided sea kayak tours are suitable for beginners and families. Some places also offer sea kayak tours at night, when the moon and stars over the sea create a romantic atmosphere.
photo of Sea kayak

Sea kayak

Water ball activities on offer involve getting inside a large, inflatable, transparent ball, which is then towed across the bay by a boat. Riding over the sea in a water ball is a fun way to view the bay's clear seas from a unique perspective. For the more adventurous, skydiving over Ise-Shima's seas, green forests, and coastlines makes for an exhilarating experience. This is available from summer through the fall. There is surfing on the Pacific side of Ise-Shima. Surf enthusiasts can rent boards from surfing schools. Snorkelers can discover seagrass beds and various types of seaweed, such as wakame. Diving offers close encounters with marine life, including various types of sea slug. For those seeking a more relaxed vacation, various cruises depart from Kashikojima Island and Toba Bay. Ago Bay's ferries weave around the bay's many small islands, giving travelers an up-close view of the curving coastlines and lush forests.
photo of Pleasure cruise

Pleasure cruise

Hiking, Walking, and Cycling:
Ise-Shima boasts numerous hiking trails, which lead visitors to the beautiful scenery of the surrounding bays and mountains. Trails suitable for beginners include the Yokoyama Picnic Site, with its many viewpoints offering vistas across Ago Bay. Surrounded by a large number of blossoming cherry trees in spring, Mt. Otonashi's promenade looks out across Ise Bay towards Aichi Prefecture's Atsumi and Chita peninsulas. Hikers who want to walk further can try climbing to the top of Mt. Asama, Ise-Shima National Park's highest mountain. There are also guided walking tours of Shima's rocky coasts and historical fishing villages.
photo of Hiking


Cycling tours allow visitors another way to experience the rich ecology and beautiful coastlines of Ise-Shima. Options include bicycle tours of Shima's fishing villages and sunset cycling tours. Those who prefer to plan their own route can rent bicycles.
Craft Workshops:
There are also workshops where visitors can try extracting pearls and using them to make their own accessories or necklaces.
photo of Pearl accessory workshop

Pearl accessory workshop


Ise-Shima is proud of its fresh seafood and local dishes. The seafood has been deemed good enough for the imperial family since ancient times. However, it is possible for everyone to enjoy Ise-Shima's specialties these days. The Japanese spiny lobster, or Ise-ebi in Japanese, is a specialty of Ise-Shima. Important food for auspicious occasions, its curved back and whiskers are a symbol of longevity. Fall and winter is the best season for Japanese spiny lobsters. Delicious Ise-Shima abalone, caught by female divers known as ama, have been famous for a couple of thousand years. Two thousand years ago, Princess Yamatohime-no-mikoto, the founder of the jinja (Shinto shrine) complex Ise Jingu, is said to have declared the abalone of Kuzaki in Ise-Shima food fit for the deities. It can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. Slices of raw abalone sashimi have a chewy texture. Abalone grilled over a fire in an ama diver's hut, or in a restaurant, are softer and more delicate. Steamed abalone has a rich umami taste and is best paired with Japanese sake. Summer is the main season for abalone.
photo of Abalone. Photo by Ito Yoshimasa

Abalone. Photo by Ito Yoshimasa

There are also many kinds of oysters. Creamy Matoya oysters are one winter delicacy. As the name suggests, they are farmed in Matoya Bay. Iwagaki oysters, on the other hand, are large oysters that can be eaten in the spring and summer months.
photo of Oysters


Furthermore, in spring, seasonal specials include red sea bream, and wakame and hijiki seaweed. Turban shells, horse mackerel, and conger eels are plentiful in summer. In the fall, sea bream, and Japanese Spanish mackerel are at their best. Sea cucumbers, blowfish, and seaweeds like nori are harvested in winter.
photo of Drying wakame (a species of brown algae)

Drying wakame (a species of brown algae)

Tekonezushi was traditionally eaten for lunch by fishermen from Shima. Freshly-caught fish were sliced and soaked in sweetened soy sauce, then mixed with rice by hand. More recently, it has become a local specialty of Ise-Shima, a homemade dish served at celebrations and to guests.
photo of Tekonezushi


Ise udon has been eaten by pilgrims visiting Ise Jingu for a long time. It is a dish consisting of soft, thick udon noodles served with a slightly sweet black sauce. Ise udon noodles are boiled for an hour to make them much softer. It is thought that the noodles were boiled like this to make it easier for tired travelers to eat and digest them. Traditional sweets were developed for pilgrims visiting Ise Jingu. Visitors today can also enjoy these treats. A more modern specialty of Ise-Shima are seafood burgers. Toba's "Toburgers" contain approved local ingredients such as Japanese spiny lobster and oysters. A wide range of Toburgers is available at various restaurants. Shima's bonito burger features a patty of crispy battered bonito, topped with shredded cabbage and served on a bun. Daiozaki is also known for producing dried bonito. Even now, it is still produced using traditional methods by various companies. The fish are slowly smoked over a fire pit--a process that requires much time and patience. It is then used to make cooking stock or eaten as a snack that pairs well with Japanese sake.
photo of Smoking dried bonito

Smoking dried bonito

The sacred shinsen meals offered to the deities at Ise Jingu are thought to be the origins of washoku (Japanese traditional cuisine). Both shinsen and washoku include a wide variety of foods such as rice, fish, seaweed, and seasonal fruits and vegetables. In Ise-Shima, visitors can enjoy a rich food culture, one which has been greatly appreciated for centuries.


Miketsukuni and Ise Jingu:
Ise-Shima has a long and interesting history of people whose lives have been shaped by the sea. Excavations have unearthed 3,000-year-old tools for taking abalone. There are also records of seafood being traded by Ise-Shima's Daio Town dating from 745 CE. With its rich natural environment, bountiful harvests, and fine seafood, the area was identified as a miketsukuni. These were regions of Japan responsible for providing food to the imperial court. In the Manyoshu, a collection of classical poems compiled around the eighth century, Wakasa (now Fukui prefecture), Awaji Island (in modern Hyogo), and Ise-Shima are listed as the three regions bestowed this honor. As the jinja (Shinto shrine) complex dedicated to Amaterasu-Omikami, the most important deity in Japan's native religion of Shinto, Ise Jingu is regarded as the spiritual center of the country. Throughout history, Japanese people have been moved to visit Ise Jingu at least once. The improvement of roads in the Edo period (1603-1867) allowed significant numbers of people to visit the sacred site. This increase in visitors to Ise Jingu led to the establishment of many teahouses nearby. The atmosphere of eras in which people made the pilgrimage lingers today along Okageyokocho Street, opened in 1993, which is lined with reconstructions of Edo period buildings. Located near Ise Jingu's Naiku, the street has traditional sweet and souvenir shops.
photo of Okageyokocho Street

Okageyokocho Street

Kuki Yoshitaka's Naval Forces and the Warring States Period: The Kuki family rose to prominence in Toba during Japan's turbulent warring period in the sixteenth century. Kuki Yoshitaka (1542-1600), originally the leader of a band of pirates, eventually established himself as a resourceful naval commander. In the 1570s he became an ally of Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), at the time the most powerful warlord in the country. In the Battle of Kizugawaguchi, Kuki supported Oda's army, using iron-plated ships to repel the opposing Mori Clan's attacks. After Oda's death, Kuki went on to support Japan's emerging unifier, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536 or 1537-1598), rising to become commander of the Toyotomi Clan's fleet. He was granted permission by Toyotomi to build Toba Castle, which was completed in 1594. This was a sea-facing castle, with a large gate that opened directly onto Toba Bay, and was surrounded by a seawater moat. The seaward side was painted black, and the landward side white--explaining its nickname "Two-colored Castle." Today, visitors to Shiroyama Park and the Toba Castle ruins can see the remains of the castle's foundation walls, and enjoy the commanding view it once had over Toba Bay.
photo of Shiroyama Park

Shiroyama Park

In 1600, the Toyotomi and Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) forces fought a decisive battle at Sekigahara. Kuki Yoshitaka fought alongside Toyotomi. However, his son, Kuki Moritaka (1573-1632), joined the opposing Tokugawa army. Moritaka managed to obtain a pardon for his father from Tokugawa. Unfortunately, Kuki Yoshitaka committed suicide on Toba's Toshijima Island before the news could reach him. His body is now buried there. His head was buried separately on a promontory in Toshijima where he can look over towards Toba Castle.
photo of The Grave of Kuki Yoshitaka (head mound)

The Grave of Kuki Yoshitaka (head mound)

An Important Shipping Route:
During the era of peace brought about by the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1867), Ise-Shima and its ports prospered through trade. This brought wealth to the area and enhanced standards of living, as well as starting an exchange of culture with Osaka. Such exchange is evident in traditions such as Anori Bunraku puppet theater, which was inspired by a similar form of entertainment popular in Osaka in the eighteenth century. The Shogunate collected taxes from the various domains in the form of rice, and Ise-Shima flourished as an important port for rice ships en route to the capital Edo (now Tokyo).

Ise Jingu (Shinto Shrine)

Ise Jingu (Shinto Shrine):
Ise Jingu is the most important jinja (Shinto shrine) complexes in Japan. Japan's indigenous Shinto faith is based around paying respects to kami, deities that reside in the natural world, in every being and every person. Ise Jingu, officially known as "Jingu," is composed of 125 jinja, centered around the Naiku and Geku. These are dedicated to Amaterasu-Omikami (the sun deity) and Toyo'uke-no-Omikami (the deities of food, clothing, and shelter) respectively.
photo of Naiku


According to legend, Ise Jingu, was established approximately 2,000 years ago by Yamatohime-no-Mikoto, the daughter of Emperor Suinin. Prior to that, Amaterasu-Omikami was worshipped in the imperial palace located in the ancient capital of Nara. When an epidemic spread through Nara, it was decided that Amaterasu-Omikami's sacred mirror (one of the three imperial regalias of Japan) should be moved to a more appropriate location to placate the deities. Princess Yamatohime-no-Mikoto was sent on a mission to find a place where the sun deity could be enshrined. After searching for over twenty years, she arrived in Ise. She is said to have received a revelation besides the Isuzugawa River and decided that this was the perfect place. The Naiku was then constructed.
Every twenty years, both the Naiku and Geku, as well as fourteen affiliated jinja called betsugu, are rebuilt. This process is called Shikinen Sengu and is the most important ritual at Ise Jingu. It is an ancient tradition dating back to 690 when Emperor Tenmu decreed that the Naiku should be rebuilt. Each jinja is rebuilt next to the old one, which is why the jinja in Ise Jingu appear to be located to the left or right of their plot. After construction is completed, a ceremony is held to move the deities from the old jinja to the new. Only then is the old jinja carefully disassembled piece by piece. This process is carried out to make sure that the wooden buildings of Ise Jingu remain both eternal and fresh. It also helps make sure that many ancient techniques of jinja building continue to be handed on from generation to generation.
photo of Shikinen Sengu in Izawa-no-miya, one of the associated shrines of Ise Jingu

Shikinen Sengu in Izawa-no-miya, one of the associated shrines of Ise Jingu

The 62nd Shikinen Sengu was conducted in 2013. The Ujibashi Bridge on the way to Ise Jingu was also rebuilt. Its walkways and railings are made from Hinoki cypress and the piers from water-resistant Japanese zelkova. All the jinja are constructed using new cypress wood. However, parts of Ise Jingu's old jinja are often reused. The large torii gate that is seen before Ujibashi Bridge is constructed from reclaimed cypress. Some of the wood from deconstructed Ise Jingu is also sent to other jinja buildings around Japan.
Around ninety years ago, a 200-year cypress-planting project was started by the Ise Jingu Secretariat with the aim of providing all the wood for the rebuilding from Ise Jingu's own forests. These efforts meant that a quarter of the wood used for the most recent Shikinen Sengu in 2013 could be sourced from Ise's forest. The rest was obtained from Kiso in Nagano and Gifu Prefecture. Ise-Shima National Park was founded in 1946 to protect Ise Jingu and its forest following World War II.
photo of Forest management in Kyuikirin (precinct forest of Ise Jingu). Photo by Jingushicho

Forest management in Kyuikirin (precinct forest of Ise Jingu). Photo by Jingushicho

Since the early times, residents have thanked the Ise Jingu deities for nature's blessings through ceremonies. One of the most important of these ceremonies is Kanname-sai. Rice is a staple food in Japan. According to legend, the first rice was given to the people by Amaterasu-Omikami's grandson. Every year, Ise Jingu's Shinto priests make an offering of the first rice grown at Ise Jingu to Amaterasu-Omikami. This rice is grown in a special field irrigated by the waters of the Isuzugawa River which runs through the forests of Ise Jingu. This is such an important tradition that rice farmers from all over Japan also make offerings at Ise Jingu.


For thousands of years, the sun deity Amaterasu-Omikami has been worshipped in Japan as a symbol of the sun, one of nature's blessings essential to life. As Japan's most sacred jinja (Shinto shrine) complex, Ise Jingu in Ise-Shima lies at the center of this belief. Today, Ise-Shima's culture is still characterized by ancient rituals and festivals giving thanks for harvests and catches. These festivals are held in and around Ise Jingu. One of them, Ise Jingu's Kanname-sai festival, celebrates the offering of the first rice grown every October. Fishermen and female divers known as ama visit shrines and temples to pray for safety at sea. Ise Jingu's associated shrine, Izawa-no-miya, is just one of the places of worship where fishing and agricultural communities can receive this blessing. Lively festivals celebrate people's health and the harvests.
photo of Kanname-sai. Photo by Jingushicho

Kanname-sai. Photo by Jingushicho

photo of Rice planting festival in Izawa-no-miya

Rice planting festival in Izawa-no-miya

In addition to Ise Jingu, Ise-Shima is home to many shrines and temples that remain closely interwoven with people's lives today. Mt. Aonomine's Shofukuji Temple has long been a destination for local fishermen, ama divers, and merchants to pray for safety at sea. In January, the temple's Mifune Festival sees the offering of colorful flags, which celebrate abundant catches, from all over the country.
photo of Mifune Festival at Shofukuji Temple on Mt. Aonomine

Mifune Festival at Shofukuji Temple on Mt. Aonomine

The Waraji Festival is held in Daio Town in mid-September. According to legend, a one-eyed monster called Dandarabotchi came to the town bringing strong winds and waves. To scare it away, a giant straw waraji (sandal) was made. The monster, upon seeing the sandal, thought that there was someone bigger than him locally and was scared away. Today, people make a three-meter-long straw sandal and float it out to sea from the beach at Suba. Daio Town is very close to the ocean, and historically these festivals were thought to have been held to ward off natural disasters. Toshijima Island, in particular, is home to many unique and long-standing traditions. One of these is the maruhachi mark. This symbol is made up of the character for the number eight (written 八) surrounded by a circle. This character is pronounced "hachi" as in Hachiman, the name of the deity worshipped by the island's fishing community. This mark is thought to protect residents from dangers at sea and bring good catches. The marks are repainted in the same spot every January as part of the Hachiman Festival.
photo of Maruhachi mark

Maruhachi mark

Ama divers have their own symbols for warding off misfortune, called seiman and doman. Seiman is a star shape drawn in one stroke that is thought to repel sea demons. Doman is a lattice shape which represents eyes keeping watch on evil spirits. Tomokazuki, a demon in the form of an ama who beckons, is just one manifestation of the dangers of the sea in ama legends. Above home and shop entrances in Ise-Shima, one often finds shimenawa. These traditional, sacred ropes are also believed to ward off evil spirits. They are primarily made from rice straw, representing gratitude for the rice harvest. Poisonous Japanese Andromeda, or thorned holly, are also added to the rope to repel evil spirits.
photo of Shimenawa


Traditional forms of entertainment, including Anori Bunraku, a type of Japanese puppet theater, still flourish in Ise-Shima. Bunraku combines narration, shamisen music (a traditional three-stringed instrument), and puppetry, to portray a story. The puppets themselves are sophisticated and extraordinarily lifelike, with movable features including eyebrows that make them expressive. Bunraku is thought to have already been performed in the seventeenth century and developed with the support of local merchants in the eighteenth century as the area flourished as a port between Edo (now Tokyo) and Osaka. The art form is still handed on from generation to generation today. Bunraku is performed every year on September 15th and 16th in the Anori Shrine grounds.
photo of Anori Bunraku, Japanese puppet theater

Anori Bunraku, Japanese puppet theater

Ama (Female Diver)

Ama (Female Diver)
Ama are female divers who harvest a wide variety of seafood from the ocean floor, including abalone, shellfish, and various types of seaweed. Ama are found only in Japan and Korea.
photo of Diving <em>Ama</em>

Diving Ama

In Ise-Shima, where there is rich marine life, their history goes back thousands of years, and tales of early ama are recorded in the Manyoshu, a poetry collection compiled around 759. Today, Ise-Shima is home to the largest number of ama in Japan (973 ama as of 2010). Ama do not use any breathing apparatus; instead, they must learn to hold their breath as they dive using special breathing techniques. These include slightly opening their mouths and exhaling slowly when they surface, making a whistling sound known as isobue. Most ama hold their breath for around a minute, and the time spent underwater is called the "50-second battle." Early ama braved the cold waters wearing nothing but loincloths, but today's Ama wear wetsuits and large single-lens diving masks.
photo of <em>Ama</em> fishing

Ama fishing

There are two main diving methods used by the ama: kachido and funado. In the kachido method, ama tie a rope around their waists. This is attached to a wooden bucket that floats on the surface. The funado style, on the other hand, is traditionally practiced by a married couple from a boat. The husband waits on the boat while the ama dives, holding a heavy weight. This allows the ama to descend rapidly and reach deeper levels than kachido ama. The husband then reels her in using a pulley system attached to the boat. These methods vary slightly depending on the area. Ama have strict rules to protect their livelihood and conserve marine resources. There are long periods surrounding the spawning season (usually from September to December) when taking abalone is forbidden. Furthermore, abalone can be harvested only once they are over 10.6cm long. They are slow growing, and if the abalone reaches that size, it means it has had the chance to breed at least once. This rule is embodied in the ama's saying "Abalone will become a beautiful bride, as long as you wait three years."
photo of Tool of measuring an abalone

Tool of measuring an abalone

In addition, all local ama must agree unanimously to go diving each day of the diving season. The number of diving days, and the length of each diving session is also strictly regulated by local communities to protect natural resources. Ama have a strong historical connection to Ise Jingu, the most important jinja (Shinto shrine) in Japan. It is said that Yamatohime-no-mikoto, the founder of Ise Jingu, was given an abalone by Oben, a local ama who lived in Kuzaki, 2,000 years ago. She enjoyed the taste so much that she decided abalone should be offered to Ise Jingu's deities as an element in their sacred meals, called shinsen. These balanced meals for the deities contain thirty types of high quality, locally sourced food. This tradition continues today, and the abalone used is obtained from the Kuzaki area of Toba City. Oben is enshrined at Amakazukime Shrine in Kuzaki, so the abalone caught by ama in this area are thought to have received her blessing. There are many rituals and festivals involving ama, including the Shirongo Festival on Sugashima Island. Regulations usually prevent ama diving around Shirongo Beach except on this festival day, held in July every year, when visitors can watch ama compete to catch abalone. It is considered lucky to find a pair, and the winner is appointed Chief Ama for that year. Ama also decorate their clothing and equipment with star and lattice shapes. They are called seiman, and doman, respectively. Embroidered with thread, or drawn with purple ink made from seashells, these traditional symbols are thought to protect the wearer from evil spirits and the fickle nature of the sea.
photo of Shirongo Festival

Shirongo Festival

photo of <em>Ama</em> in traditional wear. Photo by Ito Yoshimasa

Ama in traditional wear. Photo by Ito Yoshimasa

photo of Traditional symbols of seiman and doman

Traditional symbols of seiman and doman


Pearls have been an integral and much-valued part of local history and culture in the Ise-Shima National Park area for centuries. The National Park has become known today as the "home of the cultured pearl." Developments in pearl cultivation in Ise-Shima during the last century created a vibrant industry. Today, the quality of Ise-Shima pearls is recognized all over the world. In pre-modern Japan, pearls were used as an ingredient in medicine. Their powder was believed to help cure a variety of ailments, from eye diseases to fevers. At that time, female divers known as ama harvested pearl oysters along with other seafood. However, natural pearls are formed by accident. They were a relatively expensive ingredient due to their rarity, and prized as "mermaid's tears." Mikimoto Kokichi (1858-1954), sometimes known as the "Pearl King," was born the son of a restaurant owner in Toba. He originally started trying to farm pearls on Shinmeiura Inlet in Ago Bay in 1888. Two years later, he began farming on Toba's Ojima Island. In 1892, an over-profusion of algae in Ago Bay caused a red tide, a phenomenon caused by algal blooms. This killed most of Mikimoto's pearl oysters. He was left with his smaller stock on Ojima Island. On restarting oyster farming at Ojima the following year, he discovered that he had managed to produce five pearls attached to their shells. These hemispherical pearls were the first successfully cultivated pearls in the world, representing a big step for pearl cultivation techniques. The efforts of two other researchers, Mise Tatsuhei (1880-1924) and Nishikawa Tokichi (1874-1909), resulted in the first successful production of perfectly spherical cultivated pearls. Subsequent to these developments, Mikimoto began to produce spherical pearls on Ojima, expanding his business. Having deep respect and love for this beautiful landscape, Mikimoto supported initiatives to get the Ise-Shima area designated as National Park. Before World War II, and together with local leaders and organizations, he lobbied the Japanese government. His dreams came true in 1946. In the early days of pearl cultivation, it was the ama divers' job to find mother pearl oysters and then return the irritant-inserted oysters back to the seabed so that pearls could develop. Subsequently, pearl-farming rafts were invented. Cages housing oysters are attached to the raft. This invention made the pearl farmer's work of caring for the shells easier. Today, the sight of pearl-farming rafts floating on Ago Bay is considered a symbol of Ise-Shima.
photo of Performance of pearl oyster catching by <em>ama</em> divers

Performance of pearl oyster catching by ama divers

photo of Harvesting pearl oysters

Harvesting pearl oysters

There are workshops where visitors can try their hand at extracting cultured pearls from oysters in Ise-Shima. There are also demonstrations of how irritants are inserted into oysters, and opportunities to learn more about pearl cultivation history in Ise-Shima. The natural beauty of pearl necklaces and many other items made using local pearls can be appreciated in Ise-Shima's specialist pearl shops.
photo of A pearl shop in Ise-Shima

A pearl shop in Ise-Shima

Irritants are placed inside mother pearl oyster shells to make pearls. The oysters secrete nacre (pearl-forming liquid) around the irritants. Cultivated pearls typically take around one to two years to grow from irritant insertion to harvest. Pearls are difficult to cultivate because they require particular conditions. Ise-Shima's bays meet these specific requirements. Pearl oysters need a steady current, but protection from strong winds. They also require plankton for nutrition. Pearl farmers must also pay attention to the status of each oyster. If, for example, water temperatures drop, they must move the oysters to a southern bay.
photo of Pearl rafts floating in a calm bay

Pearl rafts floating in a calm bay

The sheltered inlets of Ago and Gokasho Bay, along with other places in Ise-Shima, allow pearl oysters to thrive. Shima's New Satoumi Community program helps to preserve these rich natural environments for future generations.

*This page includes the texts created by the Japan Tourism Agency.