If you are in Ise, Mie Prefecture for Ise Jingu – Japan’s most sacred and important shrine, you may as well stay longer in the city visiting other sightseeing spots and sampling fresh seafood sourced from local waters, notably the famous Ise ebi lobster and oysters.
In fact, Ise is part of the larger Ise-Shima area which includes the cities of Ise, Toba, Shima, and also the town of Minami-Ise. Surrounded by rich nature, the area has a number of attractions which would make interesting additions to your trip. This article will introduce several popular tourist sites around the city of Ise.
Before we begin, it is good to know that Ise is served by two train companies: JR and Kintetsu Railway 近鉄. It also has a tourist travel pass called Michikusa Pass みちくさきっぷ which allows unlimited rides on selected local buses, especially the Ise-Futami-Toba Circular Bus or “CAN Bus” (伊勢・二見・鳥羽周遊バス / CANばす) which departs from the train stations in Ise and stops at major sights in Ise and Toba.
Holders of the pass can also get discounts on tickets and admission at selected tourist facilities around the area. You may consider getting the pass if you plan on staying in Ise for more than one day. The Michikusa Pass is available at 1,000 yen for one day or 1,600 yen for two days.
Meoto Iwa 夫婦岩
Literally translated as “Husband and Wife Rocks”, Meoto Iwa or Wedded Rocks are a pair of rocks off the coast of Futami town in Ise. The rocks are part of the Futami Okitama Shrine 二見興玉神社, where you can also find many cute frog statues. The frog is believed to be the messengers of Sarutahiko Okami which the shrine is dedicated to.
There are several locations in Japan where you can find Meoto Iwa, but this one not far from the Ise Grand Shrine is the most famous of all. The rocks are connected by a sacred shimenawa (heavy rope of rice straw) which is replaced three times a year in May, September and December. Many Japanese couples come here to pray for a happy marriage.
The best time to visit Meoto Iwa is during high tide when the rocks are separated by water. The view is even more stunning between May and July when you can catch the sun rising between the rocks, or during autumn and winter when the full moon appears to rise over the rocks.
Access: 15-minute walk from JR Futaminoura Station 二見浦駅. Alternatively, take the CAN bus to “Meoto Iwa Higashiguchi” 夫婦岩東口 stop.
Ise Azuchi Momoyama Cultural Village 伊勢安土桃山城下街
Image: ise_jokamachi on Instagram
A unique theme park where you can relive the days of Azuchi-Momoyama period through entertaining shows, games and various other activities.
The park’s most outstanding feature is no doubt the replica of Azuchi Castle (original castle in Shiga was destroyed in 1582) with amazing views over the city from the top floor offering. Ninja experience is another highlight of the theme park – an array of interesting ninja-related attractions such as ninja training fortress, ninja maze, ninja wizard house, and Japanese sword making demo are not to be missed. Of course, ninja show is a must, along with other performances such as oiran theatre and live samurai action.
To make your visit more fun, you can stroll through the town in your favourite Japanese costume. The park also has a relaxation zone with four types of onsen baths, a nice way to conclude your day!
Hours: 9 am to 5 pm (some until 10 pm)
Admission: From 3,600 yen (adult) / 2,000 yen (child)
Access: 15-minute walk from JR Futaminoura Station. Alternatively, it is a 30-minute bus ride from JR/ Kintetsu Toba Station 鳥羽駅 via the CAN bus or the park’s free shuttle (departs 9:40 am)
Toba Aquarium 鳥羽水族館
Image: riri_sa on Instagram.
Opened in 1955, Toba Aquarium is a great place for families with kids to spend a day. It boasts the largest number of species of any aquarium in Japan, housing 30,000 specimens representing about 1,200 species from the country and around the world. It is divided into 12 zones, displaying a variety of marine life, amphibians, reptiles, and seabirds. Visitors also get to see a number of exotic specimens such as dugong, African manatee, piranha and even bizarre looking creatures like phyllosoma.
The aquarium also has sea lion shows, walrus shows and penguin march which sure provide some fun amusing moments to visitors. Among the many animal stars here is the fishing cats from the Miracle Woods zone, be sure to pay them a visit while you’re here!
Hours: 9 am to 5 pm
Admission: 2,500 yen (adult) / 1,250 yen (child)
Access: 10-minute walk from JR/ Kintetsu Toba Station. Alternatively, take the CAN bus to “Toba Suizokukan” 鳥羽水族館 stop.
Mikimoto Pearl Island ミキモト真珠島
Mikimoto is a renowned brand for pearl jewellery, and this island in Toba city was where the world’s first cultured pearls were successfully created by its founder Kokichi Mikimoto.
Enticing pearl shops aside, the island is where you can learn about pearls and Mikimoto himself. The Pearl Museum features educational exhibits about different types of pearls, pearl farming methods, as well as a collection of antique pieces and crafts incorporating these little gemstones. The Memorial Hall, on the other hand, depicts the life of the Pearl King; some of his personal memorabilia are also displayed here.
Another main attraction on the island is the demonstration of ama divers or “sea women” who once played an indispensable role in pearl cultivation. It is the only place where you can see the divers in action wearing traditional white diving outfit.
Hours: 8:30 am to 5 pm (January-November) / 9 am to 4:30 pm (December)
Admission: 1,500 yen (adult) / 750 yen (child)
Access: 5-minute walk from JR/ Kintetsu Toba Station. It is also reachable via the CAN bus.
Ago Bay 英虞湾
A scenic bay dotted with forest-covered islands and rugged coastline, the stunning natural beauty of Ago Bay is one of the must-sees for anyone visiting the Ise-Shima area. The bay is a famous centre for pearl culture, where floating pearl oyster rafts on calm water are a common sight. For panoramic views of Ago Bay, go to the Yokoyama Observatory 横山展望台 which overlooks the indented coastline and islands from an elevation of 200 metres.
Kashikojima 賢島, the largest island in the bay, is the hub for exploring Ago Bay. From here you can join a sightseeing boat cruise that sails around the bay, go for sea kayaking and paddle through a maze of islands, or simply stroll around to enjoy the lovely views. Especially spectacular is the Ago Bay sunset which can be seen from the Kashikojima Ohashi Bridge linking the island and Honshu.
Access: From JR/ Kintetsu Toba Station, take the Kintetsu Shima Line 志摩線 to Kashikojima Station 賢島駅. The Yokoyama Observatory is a 10-minute taxi ride from Ugata Station 鵜方駅 or a 40-minute walk from Shima-Yokoyama Station 志摩横山駅