Following the first part of Exploring the Mie Prefecture in Japan, this article continues from the city of Toba in the south-east and heads further south to other destinations located around here. Again, for the traveller who loves exploring and lots of adventure, this journey will be perfect via a self-drive or train journey around the Mie Prefecture.
The journey continues towards Shima district in the south of the Mie Prefecture and from Toba city to Shima, you can either take the Kintetsu-Shima train for about an hour or if you are driving, it will only take around 35 minutes one way.
A carnival parade being held at the Shima Spain Village. Photo CC Wikipedia.
Known as a coastal city, there are quite a number of things one can do here and it is probably recommended to spend a night in Shima. For starters, a visit to the Shima Spain Village is not to be missed if you are travelling with friends or family.
At this village, you will find a massive Spanish-theme amusement park and resort was created here for visitors to this part of Mie and you can experience Spain without having to visit Europe. But do not expect English speaking performers as everything is in Japanese.
The Himawari-no-yu hot spring is another onsen waiting to be discovered and is located just next to the Spanish theme park. Those who want to relax and just chill out, this is the place to do so.
A view of the Ise-Shima National Park. Photo CC Japan Wikipedia.
For nature and landscape lovers, the Ise-Shima National Park is highly recommended to visit. Over here, there is an observatory located at 506 meters of Mount Asama which provides you with some beautiful scenic views of Ise Bay area.
Ago Bay is also a scenic area located in the southern tip of the Shima Peninsular and where the world’s famous Mikimoto Kokichi was born nearby. One of the highlights of Ago Bay is the Pirate Ship Cruise where you get to cruise on an actual replica pirate ship. How cool is that? The pirate cruises are about an hour-long with light snacks and drinks included.
Beautiful landscape seen from one of the viewpoints at Minamiise. Photo Must-See Japan.
From Shima City, the main 260 highway will take you to Minamiise, a very small local town, but with a lot of nature and beautiful scenery. Most visitors will only make a quick stopover to sample some of the local food here. Apart from that, you can also visit the Minamiise Taiken World, where multiple programs are offered like farming, fishing, pottery and making dried fish.
Nature and outdoor lovers will find Minamiise a perfect place as there are numerous trails, treks and waterfalls found in the surrounding. As this area is still considered as a small township, pretty much everything here is as natural as it was a hundred years ago.
One of the strange statues spotted in Kihoku Town.
From Minamiise, you continue on the 260 highway and arrive at Kihoku town, which is also the main gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kumano Kodo. This site attracts a lot of local tourists that come here to explore the mysterious forest and also the sacred sites and pilgrimage roads to Mount Kii.
At Kihoku, there are numerous festivals to look out for and they include the Tanemaki Gonbe Festival on 20th March, the Kihoku Lantern Festival at the end of July and the Sekifune Festival on the 3rd Sunday of October.
The stunning display of fireworks during the Kihoku Lantern Festival.
The Kihoku Lantern Festival is not to be missed because, during this festival, a very special and unique fireworks display takes place at night, and is highly recommended for anyone who loves fireworks. This event also attracts thousands of photographers from all over Japan.
There are also real-time experiences like Soba and Japanese chopstick making classes available. And for seafood lovers, this is one of the best natural and cheapest places to experience pure authentic and freshly caught seafood.
The ruins of the Matsusaka Castle, which is a popular site to visit.
After spending a night at Kihoku, head back up north towards Matsusaka City which is only a one hour drive north along the E42 highway. The scenic journey should keep you occupied until you reach Matsusaka and once here, the first thing to look for is the world-class Matsusaka Beef, which is from the Japanese Black Cattle and some say much better than the Wagyu Beef.
The park at Matsusaka which is beautiful during the non-winter months.
Among the popular places to visit here are the ruins of the Matsusaka Castle which is situated in Matsusaka Park. Here, you can find a museum, souvenir shops and a viewpoint of the city below.
Around the castle area, there is an old merchant area, where you will find traditional Japanese wooden shops selling cotton indigo items. Visitors are encouraged to explore the merchant area as there are many other interesting shops and even a small museum.
Famous Matsusaka Beef being cut while cooked.
At Matsusaka Station, there is a tourist information centre (TIC) where you can get more information about this place in English. The TIC also provides other services like bicycle and pocket Wi-Fi rentals.
Foodie travellers should keep a look out for the Yamagoya Restaurant, which is known to serve the famed Matsusaka Beef and is reasonably priced. And if you seek the premium cuts of the beef, look for Shoutouan Restaurant, which serves this sukiyaki-style, in a complete Japanese setting.
The famous 48 Waterfalls of Akame. Photo CC Flicker ConiferConifer.
Your next destination is the town of Nabari, which is about 80 minutes drive west of Matsusaka along Highway 165. You may probably just make a quick stopover as this town is pretty laid back, and offers mostly nature and outdoor-related activities.
However, one of the attractions is well worth a visit, and it is the 48 Waterfalls of Akame, which is also part of a nature trail in Nabari and up to a mountain. These waterfalls are well known due to the number of waterfalls found here, and also because it was once known to be the training grounds for the Ninja.
The Iga Ueno Castle which is the most popular tourist destination here. Photo CC Wikipedia.
From Nabari, it is a 30-minute drive to Iga, using 368 Highway and over here, you will find quite a number of places to visit. First, the Iga Ueno Castle is a must-visit due to the fact that this place is also well known for the Ninja. The castle town is home to the Iga School of Ninjutsu and one of Japan’s two leading Ninja schools.
At the castle grounds, you will find a Ninja Museum, Basho Memorial, Danjiri Museum and Sukodo School for Samurai Children. And while you are here, you can also check out the Buke-yashiki which is a famous Japanese Samurai Warrior’s family home turned museum.
Basically, Iga Ueno is very well known for the Japanese Samurai and Ninja training, hence there are a lot of places dedicated to this art. And if you are travelling with family or friends, there is a famous bamboo groove called Koroku-zaka, which is similar to the Arashiyama one.
Kameyama Park during the Sakura season. Photo CC Wikipedia.
On your final leg of the south to west coast drive of Mie, you should head on Highway 25 to Kameyama City, which is also close by to Suzuka City But this time in Kameyama, do visit the historic town of Seki-juku which is well preserved and a great spot to explore the old Edo cultured Japan. The old town also provides ample opportunities for photography.
Kameyama Castle standing majestically. Photo Taiga Dorama.
And while you are here, there is also the Kameyama Castle, which is another ancient castle of Japan. Here, you can explore the famous castle and the castle grounds. For nature lovers, visit the Red Hill Forest of Hisa, and is also best visited during the Spring and Summertime.
There are also numerous parks and gardens found all over Kameyama, and again, are suitable for those travellers who love the outdoors, nature, flora and fauna. For cultural lovers, there are many shrines and temples located around Kameyama as well.
The Kintetsu Train is the best way to travel in and around Mie Prefecture. Photo Wikipedia Japan.
The Journey Back To The Start Point of Nagoya
After doing an almost complete road or train trip around Mie, you can then head back to Nagoya from Kameyama as it only takes one hour to drive back. In total, I would recommend spending at least one or two days in the Mie Prefecture to fully enjoy visiting some of these spectacular places.
With this, I do hope that you will take the opportunity and time to explore and experience the Mie Prefecture, which is less visited by the common traveller. It is, in fact, one of the more natural destinations in Japan which attracting more visitors that want something out of the ordinary.