On my last full day of adventures, I borrowed a bicycle in the morning and pushed it up Rishirifuji for about 6 km and 500 meters of elevation to a viewing platform called Mikaeridai. Despite the fantastic weather there were a few clouds clinging to Rishirifuji. I just wonder for how many hours per year you can see the mountain fully. The view down to the town of Kutsugata where I stayed and Rebun island were magnificent though.

The way up to the viewing platform winds itself through forest and I was pretty much alone there, apart from a few cars, bikes and one other cyclist who rode down. There were a gazillion bugs buzzing around my head and it was quite a struggle to push the bicycle resulting in a serious case of “are we there yet?” But I pushed through, the view was indeed fantastic and the ride down the mountain too 😉
After a short rest in the hotel, I took a public bus to a small lake at the southeastern side of Rishirifuji. Kutsugata, where I was staying, is on the west side. I was super lucky because the clouds lifted for the few moments while I was there. The mountain looks completely different and even more rugged from that side and the view was just breathtaking.

During a little walk around the lake clouds came in again and blocked the view to the top. I am pretty sure that many people visiting the island never get to see the mountain. That evening also presented me with a perfect sunset and the sun sinking undisturbed by clouds into the ocean. Wow. It’s not often that I have seen an undisturbed sunset.

I watched it from the roof of my hotel, which opens it as a viewing platform. I also checked out the starry sky. While there are more stars to be seen than in the greater Tokyo area, there was still too much light pollution from the town for a wow effect. From the top of Rishirifuji you were surly able to see the Milky Way that night.
The next morning was already departure day, but I got another treat of finest weather and perfect views of the mountain’s northeastern side, before I had to say good bye to the two islands of Rebun and Rishiri.

I had all weather, so-so with clouds, crazy hot, fat storm and cold and then the last three days of perfection. Both hotels I stayed at open from 1st of May to 30th of September. For five months there are visitors, for seven months the around 2500 people on Rebun and the around 5000 people on Rishiri have their islands to themselves. I cannot imagine really what life must be like there in mid winter. One thing is for sure, the islanders are surrounded by grand nature and coming back to the concrete jungle of the greater Tokyo area, I do envy them a bit, despite those harsh winters they must be having.

view of Mt. Rishiri from Wakkanai airport

Off to Rishiri

I had a rather quiet day on Tuesday the 10th of August. Luckily I went to the Jijouiwa rock pillar the day before, because in the morning the weather was really nasty with rain added to the crazy wind. I only went to the supermarket and back to the hotel quickly, happy to get the last loaf of toast bread. They won’t get new one the next day or two with no ship arriving. Checking the ferry’s homepage in the morning saw all of them cancelled.
In the afternoon it stopped raining thankfully, even if the wind was still as strong as ever and I walked to Cape Kanedano again. Or tried to… it was very tough walking the last few meters into the wind. The sea was actually a little bit calmer than two days earlier.

Then, over night, the storm ended! Just as quickly as it had started. The sun came out, the sea got calmer. I checked the homepage of the ferry operator and all signs were on go! I really hadn’t expected that. Thus I checked out of the hotel and went to the ferry port and boarded the boat to Rishiri island as planned. Since the boat went sideways to the swell it swayed quite a bit, but nothing of the sort that would make me feel seasick. The ride is also short, just 45 min from island to island. On the way the clouds disappeared one after the other.

I checked in to the hotel on Rishiri, promptly borrowed a bicycle and rode toward the mountain. By the time I was doing so, the last cloud ceased to exist and Mt. Rishiri, or Rishirifuji presented itself in its whole glory. I had almost made peace with it that I wouldn’t see the thing, but I got super lucky. It is a hell of impressive mountain, rising from the sea just like that to 1721 meters height. The island and thus the mountain have a circumference of 50 km. Rishirifuji was a volcano but is long inactive. Thanks to that the rough wind of the north, ice and snow have shaped it over the years and given it its ragged look.

The first afternoon was just a bit of exploring, then I got treated to a fabulous dinner with lots of seafood of the area.

Windy Rocks

Since the weather forecast for Tuesday promised even worse conditions than Monday, I decided to try to risk it and catch the bus to the southern end of the island. Monday forecast: very windy, few rain, Tuesday forecast, very windy, lots of rain. The bus came punctually all right and the bus driver seemed totally unimpressed by the wind that hit the bus as soon as it turned to the east side of the island and into the wind. I guess he still does the ride in double the wind speed and I felt like a total landlubber! Lol. A pic taken out of the bus window into the churning sea.

Arrived at the Kafuka port (all ferries cancelled again apart from the first in the morning), I walked towards the target, the so called Jijouiwa rock. The walk included a 1.5 km stretch through a tunnel, which connects the east and west sides of the island. The tunnel is new, built in, or finished in 2015, and while walking through a tunnel isn’t the greatest of all walks, it was okay and better than climbing up and down hills in the crazy wind. The wind was still blowing through the whole length of the tunnel, but it wasn’t too bad. What was impressive though was the noise cars make when driving through the tunnel. It echoes and amplifies through the entire length of the thing and is ridiculously loud.

Arrived on the west side I walked straight to the rock, being the only tourist around. There was a sign and a rope to not go closer due to danger of falling rocks, but you couldn’t see from that angle that the rock is free-standing. So I ignored the warning and went closer, to at least be able to see that it’s detached from the rest of the mountain. Going between the rock and the mountain was tempting, but the falling rock warning seemed all too real in the high winds and one day that rock is destined to crumble.

Jijouiwa is to the north of the tunnel entrance and Momoiwa is to the south. That’s where I walked next and the scenery is truly stunning. It was great to see Momoiwa from the sea side and from below as well as the whole mountain range I walked over in the clouds a few days earlier. Alas the wind was enormous and at times I was walking in a crouched fashion and always at the hill side of the road, not the sea side. One bus with a bunch of tourists rode past me once, but they were gone again when I arrived at the viewing platform at the end of the road.

The remoteness of this island and the lack of people are like balm and the older I get the more I need this break from time to time from the 20 million something people area where I usually live and work.
I admire the people who live in places like this. I cannot really imagine what it must be like there in the half a year of Hokkaido winter, the strength of the winter storms, and just how cold, rough and lonely it must be. That 15 meters per second wind I struggled against must be a balm breeze to them…

Stormy Days at Rebun Island

Wind and rain continued throughout the night and early morning. I had contemplated on going by bus to the main town again and from there to the Motochi rocks, but considering the wind and rain in the morning, I quickly gave up on that, unsure also whether the buses would even be running. I checked the ferry homepage and while they operated the first ferry in the morning (amazingly) all other vessels for the day were cancelled. Luckily the rain stopped for a while and I decided to brace the elements and to go out there. I checked the lake and the beach inside the bay and the latter teased me into wanting to see the open ocean. Already the bay’s waves were quite animated, so what would it be like “out there”?

So I walked the three kilometers one way to Cape Kanedano, which is the northeastern tip of Rebun island. (Cape Sukoton is the northwestern tip and a tad further north than Kanedano). Cape Kanedano did not disappoint. Since the waves are blocked there by land, they were virtually boiling.

The wind came from the southeast and staying on the western side of the cape thus put the hills in my back, which made for relatively comfortable watching of the happenings. I peaked a nose down the eastern side of the cape, but could hardly walk against the wind and quickly fled back to the western side and its wind shadow. Said wind was only at 17 meters per second, or 60 km per hour, which is far from being terrible. I stayed for almost an hour at the western side of the cape, gawking at the waves and taking tons of pics and videos. The road is only at four meters above sea level and since said sea level was elevated it looked pretty amazing, as if standing in the middle of the boiling sea. While I stayed there, three, four other people drove by and stopped for pics, but I was the only one on foot 😉
It was well worth the walk though, those waves were truly amazing.

Cape Gorota and Heat

They predicted a change in weather for Saturday evening and I wanted to make use of the fine weather in the morning and took the bicycle again to Cape Gorota for a “revenge”, since I didn’t manage to climb it the first time due to rain. That worked out fine and this time I managed to get on top of the cape, which is about two hundred meters high. Same story here though as at Momoiwa, clouds shrouding the view.

In a way I was also grateful for the clouds, since they made the climb bearable. While it is cooler here than in Tokyo of course, it was still close to thirty degrees Celsius and that sun beat down mightily. Without the clouds it might even have been too hot to climb.

I rode on to Cape Sukoton once more and then back to Funadomari, getting roasted. After a rest I went once more to the seals to check what they were doing and I found them hunting, only popping their heads out of the water from time to time. On the way back to Funadomari it was the first time ever since I came here that the clouds lifted and I could see the full mountain range to the southwest. During the five minutes I spent in the supermarket the weather changed completely, no joke. When I left the supermarket, wind had come up and clouds had come in and the temperature dropped for five degrees, wow!
The drop in temperatures was highly welcome though since my hotel had no air conditioning and I suffered for three nights in a room of about 28 degrees and the outside temperatures not dropping below 24 during the night. Back in the hotel I opened all windows and gladly put on extra layers of clothing instead of nothing but underwear! I was highly fascinated though with the super sudden change in weather, that’s remote island life!

Momoiwa Trail

There are public buses on Rebun island (running around five times a day) and I wanted to go to the south of the island also and took a bus to the main town of Kafuka. There I wanted to change buses and go to a place called Motochi, which is another cape with stunning rock formations. There would be a 90 min gap between the buses and I thought I check out Kafuka in the meantime. Turns out the tiny town is checked out within twenty minutes. Not wanting to waste any time, I started with the hike up to a viewpoint for a place called Momoiwa (peach rock) with the intention to go down again and catch that bus to Motochi. Turns our Momoiwa is fantastic too!

The hiking trail there looked much better than the one to Mt. Rebun, and I ended up doing the entire Momoiwa observatory hiking trail of 7km which ends at the southern tip of Rebun.

While there were a few people at the Momoiwa viewpoint, since it is also accessible by car, I met a total of four people on the hiking trail south beyond it.

The view was hampered by clouds, but they gave the hike also a bit of a thrill and a mystic touch.

There is a bus from the southern tip fishing village to Kafuka, but when I arrived down there I had a two hour wait to look forward to in a village that does not even have a drink vending machine. So I walked the four kilometers back to Kafuka along the ocean road also! I haven’t walked over ten kilometers in one day in a while.

Undergrowth and Seals

Inspired by the two hour hiking from the day before, I thought I’d tackle the highest hill of Rebun island, which is just shy of 500 meters tall. It has an official hiking trail to it. I rode the bicycle for six km to the entry point but gave up on the first (steep) hill. There was a zigzag path up the hill, but it was so overgrown and entangled that you couldn’t see where you place your feet. I fell twice trying to get up that first hill and gave up on it.

Back on the road I rode around the eastern peninsula instead of taking the shortcut directly to Funadomari. It’s a winding coastline of seven km with plenty of lonely fishing villages along the way. To live here needs some extra stamina. Things are nice enough in summer, but this is Hokkaido and there is snow and ice for six months from November to April. I’m quite interested to know though what it’s like there in winter.

I’m glad that I rode up that road, since at the very tip of the peninsula is a group of seals. They seem to be living there during the summer and can be spotted very often according to a knowledgeable couple watching them whom I chatted with. The seals were holding siesta when I came by. The pics are not so good, since they were too far away for my old iPhone.

I also rode around on the roads close to the not-anymore-in-operation airport of Rebun island. The military area in the back is off limits though, but they sure do have a nice spot up there.

Cape Sukai and Wilderness

Not many words today, but more pictures 😉 On the second day I bicycled to the next cape, Cape Sukai, which has a viewing platform showing this magnificent view with cape Gorota in the distance.

At the tiny fishing village below the viewpoint you could get “nama uni don” raw uni = sea urchin on rice. Freshly caught in the morning, this stuff melts on the tongue and is good! (For those who like it).

It was actually quite early in the day yet and on the way back to Funadomari is the entrance to the longest hiking path of the island. I walked into the path for about an hour, meeting no one else on the trail.

It offered gorgeous views of the rolling hills and also cape Sukai. I met no one else on the trail, so beautiful and lonely and social distancing guaranteed.

Off to Rebun Island

The boat ride to Rebun the next day was smooth despite the not so good weather, since the boat was going west together with the wind and the waves that day. The ferry has space for a few hundred people but only a few dozen were on board. I spent the entire time on deck and was mostly alone there. One could see the base of Rishiri island, but I wonder on just how many summer days it’s clear enough to see the full 1721-meter glory of this dormant volcano.

The plan was to stay on Rebun for nine nights and on Rishiri for two nights. Simply because I found a reasonably priced hotel in Rebun but not in Rishiri. There are cheaper places like youth hostels or Japanese guest houses, but neither are my cup of tea, Japanese guest houses are too simple and shared accommodation in a youth hostel doesn’t seem like the best idea in COVID times either.
My hotel was kind enough to send a car for me to pick me up from the ferry and then we rode some twenty kilometers to the northern end of the island and the village of Funadomari.

Funadomari to the north and Kafuka in the south where the ferry terminal is are the main settlements, but there are plenty of fishing villages in between. The rough west coast of the island has no road or settlement for a stretch of about fifteen kilometers. To be more precise, there is no road between Cape Sukai and Motochi settlements. Funadomari has two supermarkets, one bakery and a kinda general store, that’s it! I went to the supermarket right after arriving at the hotel at around 17:00 because it closes at 18:00.
Praise be to my hotel, since they let me have a bicycle for free 🙂 I took said bicycle and promptly rode to Cape Sukoton during my first day, which is the most northern part of Japan, apart from the tiny uninhabited island off shore that you see in this picture.

On I went into the “wild” and pushed my bicycle up into the hills. I tried my first little hike up Cape Gorota but got interrupted by rain and gave up on it. It’s actually rather dangerous if the steep paths get slippery. I got my “revenge” a few days later when I managed to climb up there. The sights and cliffs are fantastic nonetheless and the whole island reminds of Iceland, Scotland, or New Zealand. It’s hard to believe you’re in Japan 🙂

To Go or Not to Go

To go on vacation or not that is the question. At least during a pandemic. In summer 2020 I was thinking I could go to Germany in summer 2021. Around winter 2020 it became apparent that this would not work, since Japan wasn’t quick enough with vaccination and also worldwide Covid numbers were less than inviting to internationally travel. In February 2021, I already decided on not going to Okinawa but Hokkaido, mostly due to temperatures. I checked whether there aren’t any small islands around Hokkaido that I could explore and I promptly found two that I never heard of before, Rebun snd Rishiri, at the very north western tip of Hokkaido. That sounded like a good idea and I booked hotels in February. Thus started the waiting whether Covid would allow for going on this trip or not. It looked good in June and I booked flights. There is one direct flight per day from Haneda airport to Wakkanai at the northwest tip of Hokkaido’s main island and from there you travel on by boat.
Closer and closer came the day for departure and with it rose and rose the number of Covid cases in Japan. I debated with friends and colleagues and the general direction was “go”, those islands are fairly lonely, Rebun has about 3000 and Rishiri 5000 inhabitants and the risk to catch Covid there is probably much smaller than in the greater Tokyo area.
The week before departure Covid levels rose to new heights in the Tokyo area. I phoned my main hotel on Rebun whether they are okay with me coming and the guy from the hotel said, they have guests from Osaka and Tokyo all the time. So much for that. So, I decided to go.
But! I had some more tooth trouble before that and actually got a tooth pulled one day before departure! Well, luckily that happened before I went and not the pain starting while at the small islands.
I also had booked a PCR test at the airport. Not so easy, everything was in Japanese only and I was hitting the limit of my kanji knowledge. I’m proud that I understood it all after all and made a correct reservation. It was some odd combined test. You do a nasal swap and get the result half an hour later. You also have to deliver saliva and then get the official PCR test result emailed to you four hours later. For the nasal swap result you have to wait for half an hour and then they give you a credit card sized pice of paper stating that you are virus free. If the test comes back positive = infected, the airline gets notified and they probably refuse to board you. There was quite a queue at the testing place but things worked smoothly and I indeed had that little piece of paper allowing me to fly half an hour later. Nobody asked for it though at the departure gate or anywhere else.

On I flew to Wakkanai with a double mask on, full of antibiotics and painkillers because of my tooth.

Most people don’t stop in Wakkanai but go directly to the ferry port and off to Rebun or Rishiri. I wanted to check out the town though, at least for one day and had booked one night there before going to Rebun island. While it was a constant over 33 or so Celsius in Tokyo with high humidity, Wakkanai greeted me with gray, rainy weather and a balmy 22 or 23 degrees. I checked into the hotel and then went for a walk around town which has about 35,000 inhabitants. It’s a fishing town and also just 90km from Sakhalin island. To my surprise, some road signs and shop signs were also in Russian. The hill above the town is a park and it has also some historical monuments to offer which are mostly dealing with the warring past of the area.

The three powers in the region, China, Russia and Japan, all “had” Sakhalin for a while. Russia and Japan “shared” the island before WW2 and the Japanese called the place Karafuto. At the end of WW2 the Russian army drove out the Japanese populace and some 400,000 people fled back to Hokkaido as it seems (though that number seems rather high to me, but I found no other figure during a short internet search).
Weather wise I got a taste of what it would be like for a while on Rebun as well, the tops of hills and mountains in the clouds. I rode up the “100 years Wakkanai” memorial tower, but didn’t see a thing of the surroundings. On very good weather days you can see Mt. Rishiri and even Sakhalin.

A Trip to Ise – Part 3

What to do on a rainy day? Go to museums 😉 that’s what I did on the 5th of May when it rained without pause. I went to three museum, which all deal with the Ise shrines in one way or the other. The main museum is the Jingu museum which deals with the history of the shrine and the rituals performed there. Every single morning they cook a meal for the sun goddess consisting of rice, fish, veggies and fruits. They even have a sacred rice field where the rice for the sun goddess is planted. Much of the shrine life revolves around the fact that is is being torn down and renewed every twenty years. Although it’s quite obvious, I failed to realize for some reason what the empty spaces next to the shrine buildings are for. They are for the next round of shrine buildings. For twenty years the shrine stands on the left half and the right half is empty, then the right half is built and for a very short time there are two shrines next to each other, then the goddess moves and the old half is torn down. In order to do this, plenty of crafts are necessary, which are thus being kept alive.

There were five visitors in the Jingu museum and in the Jingo art museum next to it I was the only visitor. It had some paintings of Japanese artists and also a few kimonos and katana and pottery items on display. The final museum I visited was the Sengu museum next to the outer shrine that has a mock up of the main shrine, which normal mortals are not allowed to see and more info about its construction and a very nice model of the main shrine complex. If you happen to be in Ise for a longer time and if it rains, those museums are a good way to spend your day 🙂

Luckily I had glorious weather for my last day at Ise and went by bicycle once more to the inner shrine in the morning. Then I wondered how to get to the Meoto rocks again and decided to try by bicycle as well instead of taking the train. It turned out to be a fabulous bicycle ride through mostly flat terrain and in total I rode some 25 km that day. The rocks looked lovely in beautiful weather and with a calmer sea. There was still a fair amount of people around, but less than during the golden week holidays of course, which was another bonus. All in all it’s been a wonderful trip to some holy sites full of history and I can definitely recommend Ise and it’s surroundings if you haven’t traveled there yet. I’m planning to go back there in 12 years! In 2033, to see the shrines wandering to their neighboring free fields 😉

A Trip to Ago Bay

About an hour by local train from Ise lies the Ago bay. A natural bay with dozens, if not hundreds of small islands and rocks studded all around it. The local train got emptier and emptier and by the time I arrived at the last stop called Kashikojima, I nearly had the train to myself. There are a few resort hotels around, but Kashikojima itself consists of just a few houses. Half of them are oyster restaurants, half of them sell pearls and the pier offers a large variety of boats of all sizes to take you around the bay. At first I rode the biggest of them, a fake European sailing ship of old including fake masts and sails.

Due to its size, the big boat stays in the main canals between the islands around. After a short lunch I then took a second, smaller boat that brings you to the further away corners of the bay. The bay is not “pristine” if that’s the word, since more or less every spot available is occupied with oyster farms. The bay is beautiful nonetheless and interesting too and was worth the visit and good for a relaxing stress free day. If you have the choice between Toba and Kashikojima, I recommend Toba though, there is more action in Toba and since the islands are higher, the Toba bay has the prettier views.

A Trip to Toba

I rode the train to Toba on my third day at Ise. It’s only a twenty minute ride from Ise and there are two trains per hour. Toba is a resort town with plenty of old fashioned hotels overlooking the many bays and corners that frame the sea. Mikimoto is a world famous name for pearls and Mr. Mikimoto was born in Toba and started his pearl empire from his hometown. There is a whole small island owned by the Mikimoto brand/clan and they have a pearl museum on it, a shop and another museum telling the story of Mr. Mikimoto’s life. The pearl museum shows the cultivation of pearls and how to persuade those muscles to grow them. They also have some pearl studded items and jewelry on display. Of course they have an extensive shop where you can easily get rid of several millions of yen if you have them left over 😉

Another point of interest was the demonstration of pearl diving women called Ama, written in kanji it means woman of the sea. The profession is said to be 2000 years old. Now it is virtually extinct and done only for show since it’s quite a hazardous and hard job. The demonstration was interesting. I timed one of the women and she stayed under for forty seconds, diving six meters deep. I wouldn’t be able to do it! Lol.

Toba has a big and much nicer aquarium than Ise next door. They also have some exotic animals like finless or black and white dolphins. The star of the aquarium is a dugong, the Asian version of the manatee and the 34 year old girl looked very cute.

They also have seal and walrus shows. Since walrus shows are rarer than seal shows I watched that one and the 600 kilo lady walrus was also very cute. Problem of the aquarium was the large number of visitors. Well, it was golden week peak time and I didn’t expect to be alone there, it nevertheless felt a bit iffy to have so many people around you. Sigh…

The highlight of the day was a tourist boat ride around the island studded area of Toba with a stop at a place called dolphin island where you can ride a seat lift to the top and have an excellent view around the entire bay. Of course I stayed on deck for the boat ride and there weren’t that many people either. Thanks to the fantastic weather, it looked very beautiful from the top of the dolphin island. A great finish to a fantastic day.

A Trip to Ise – Part 2

On my second day in Ise I had planned to go by bicycle to the coast to visit the Meoto rocks but the weather was still unstable and most of all super windy and I found the task to fight against the wind for ten kilometers one way too daunting and chose to go by train instead.

A word about my hotel here. It turned out to be quite an interesting and quirky place. In an old but still functioning office building, they refurbished six rooms in the back of the third floor into apartments, adding a bathroom and a kitchen area in each room. The carpets and ceiling including the illumination were still from the old office times though, lol. However, the place has everything it needs and on top of that rented bicycle out for free, which I am a great fan of 😉 While I rode the bicycle to the Ise grand shrine, I took the train to the Meoto rocks. They represent the Shinto deities Izanagi and Izanami and are connected by a huge rope. The summer solstice sunrise is between them and if you have very very good weather, you can even see Mt. Fuji between them. They are pretty and have an air or mystery around them.

Next to them is a small shrine and a bit further down the road is an old aquarium. I had a nice time in the wind at the rocks and also in the aquarium, though I felt a bit sorry for the animals in their tiny and old enclosures.

A Trip to Ise – Part 1

In 2020 I stayed at home during golden week (a collection of national holidays and the company I work for closes for a week) for the first time in over ten years while the country (and most of the world) was in the first state of emergency during the pandemic that had just started. Notably the COVID figures at that time were in the hundreds in all of Japan, not in the thousands as now, a year later.
This year a few prefectures are in state of emergency, a few are in a semi state of emergency, many have no such state at all. I had booked a hotel for Okinawa again, but some three weeks before I was scheduled to go, Okinawa entered a semi state of emergency and was asking people not to come. So what to do instead? I felt like I’d be going stir crazy if I have to spend another golden week at home. Inspired by a colleague of mine, who went to Mie and Wakayama prefectures in March, I “remembered” the place and thought why not. I’ve been to Ise city once before, during my very first trip to Japan, since it is the home of the most holy of all Shinto shrines, the Ise grand shrine, which belongs to the sun goddess Amaterasu. My previous visit to Ise is now a staggering 28 years ago. I visited the place as a cute and naive student in 1993. OMG, have I become that old? Yes, I have! Naturally I hardly remembered anything about the place. It’s not that far away either, just by Shinkansen to Nagoya and from there with an express train for some 90 minutes.

In Ise I rented an apartment with cooking facilities, to be able to avoid having to go to restaurants considering the COVID situation.
The holidays of golden week were timed favorably this year with the national holidays of 29th of April, and May 3, 4, and 5 all on weekdays, so also for people whose company doesn’t close for a week like mine, you could get 7 days off with taking only one holiday, the 30th of April. Last year the golden week travel was at an all time low, this year however, many people, such as myself, found it impossible to stay put. I rode the Shinkansen to Nagoya on the 30th of April, hoping for the trains to be not too full, but actually, the Shinkansen was pretty crowded and I stayed between cars to avoid having to sit next to someone for the 90 min from Yokohama to Nagoya. The train to Ise was much emptier, luckily.

I went to the Ise grand shrine right on the first day, the 1st of May, a Saturday in unsteady weather, with rain showers in the morning and epic thunderstorms in the afternoon, but luckily I was already back at the hotel for the worst parts of the thunderstorms. There were plenty of people around but in the large park of the inner part of the Ise grand shrine the crowding situation was acceptable. It was a lot more crowded in the shopping and food street next to the shrine and I felt a bit unsafe but went with the flow.

The shrine and the park around it are pretty amazing, even if you cannot really see the main shrine, since it is too holy and closed off for the most part. It is also one of the few places in Japan where you are not allowed to take pictures. There are plenty of lesser shrines around the main one though, which are accessible. An interesting point about the Ise grand shrine is that it is being rebuilt every twenty years. All buildings are made from wood and are renewed every twenty years. The first mentioning of the renewal of the shrine in whatever documents is from the year 690. It’s a beautiful place and well worth the visit. Right in the middle of town is the outer area of the shrine with ponds and several smaller shrines and also a main shrine. I found the outer shrine to be very nice also, in part because there were fewer people there.