An Unplanned Weekend Trip to Ise Jingu and Nagoya

The unexpected, while traveling, happens all the time. Even in a country like Japan, where inconveniences are accounted for, the unexpected can happen.

But in my experience, all the events that were unaccounted for were of the pleasant type, like when I went to Nagoya: a one-day trip turned a two-day cultural tour with a detour to visit the not-so-close Ise Shinto Shrine.

Nagoya is a big city in Aichi Prefecture, nice and off the beaten path, reachable in less than 2 hours by bullet train from Tokyo, making it an ideal destination for one day.

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View from Nagoya Castle

The Ise Shrine, instead, is in Mie prefecture and to get there from Nagoya it takes pretty much the same time that it takes to reach Nagoya from Tokyo...except by local trains. The shrine is one of the most important in Japan, as it is home of the sun goddess Amaterasu. One of the three imperial regalia, the sacred mirror, is kept here.

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Isuzugawa before entrance to Ise Shrine

How did our one day trip unexpectedly turned into a two day trip? Let's find out below.

My plan was to visit Nagoya Castle, a beautiful construction from the Tokugawa era that was destroyed during WW2 and then rebuilt. In this sense, the castle in Nagoya is not one of the original ones, strictly speaking, but it still holds its charm.

Instead of heading to the castle, though, I agreed to the wish of my friend who went with me on this trip, and planned a detour to go to Ise shrine from there. It being one of the most important Shinto shrines in Japan, it was kind of a pity not to visit. We planned we could make it back on time to visit the castle and then catch one of the last Shinkansen bullet trains back to Tokyo. It was a great plan.

After what looked like forever, we skipped all the other temples and sights of Ise City, our destination, crossed Isuzugawa river, and arrived by the big wooden gate of Ise-jingu. The temple was in the middle of a thick forest, quiet and calming. We faced our first inconvenience: the temple grounds were not open to the public because all the wooden buildings had to be rebuilt!

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Works to move the bridge over the river
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Walkway to reach the shrine

This is basically a kind of ceremony that has been going on for centuries, and allows to preserve the buildings from the ravages of age. Every 20 years, all the shrines are dismantled and then built again identically, just a few meters away from their original position. Fascinating.

In the end, a bit disappointed, my friend and I rushed back to the trains to get back to our plan A.

Second unexpected situation, we were stuck on a super slow train with lots of transfers, and we arrived by the castle entrance in Nagoya just a few minutes after last admission.

We then decided to find a place to stay and with the help of the people in the tourist information center, we got a room for the night and we celebrated with a night out at the Hard Rock Cafe!

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Nagoya Station towers
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Nagoya Hard Rock Cafe

Day two then was dedicated to explore Nagoya. We not only visited the castle, but also went around the city, which is easily walkable as it is flat and not too wide spread. We took some time to visit the two main temples, Atsuta Shrine, which is dedicated to Amaterasu and inside it the imperial sword is kept, and Osu Kannon Temple.

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View of Nagoya Castle
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Atsuta Shrine main gate
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Osu Kannon Temple Grounds

After completing the rather minimal tour, we were back to the station to return to Tokyo. It was an interesting and fun weekend, all things considered. Not all accidents bring negative consequences after all...even the bullet train tickets could be changed without any trouble!

Plan your traveling, but don't let the unexpected drag you down. Use it to your advantage.

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