Ise city is reasonably easy to access from Tokyo, with Shikansen plus express train it can be reached in just over 3 hours. But as usual to save cost and maximise sight-seeing time given limited vacation days, we took an overnight bus, departing Tokyo at 22:30 and arriving just before 08:30.
Ise Shrine (伊勢神宮)
Arriving early is recommended, to avoid the crowds. The (main) place of interest in Ise is the Ise Shrine (伊勢神宮), which is considered the most important shrine in the Shinto religion, and is a hugely popular place to visit (regardless of the G7 stuff). Within that are two main shrines – the Outer Shrine (外宮) which is within walkable distance from Ise City station, and the Inner Shrine (内宮), which is a 20 minutes bus ride away. The Inner Shrine is notable as the place of worship for the “most important” diety, Amaterasu (天照大神), the god for the Japanese Imperial family.
Meoto-iwa Rocks (夫婦岩)
Meoto-iwa Rocks (literally, Husband and Wife Rocks) is about half an hour bus ride from the Inner Shrine. It’s a bit underwhelming, though it may be worth a visit for couples, just for good fortune. The view is supposed to be great during sun rise, and at certain times of year it’s possible to see the sun rising between the two rocks.
Toba Aquarium (鳥羽水族館)
Despite Toba being a small town, it has a heavy-weight aquarium boasting the largest number of species of sea creatures in Japan (as well as owning the domain aquarium.co.jp!). As an aquarium buff having been to a fair number of aquariums around the world I was definitely excited, and it didn’t disappoint – there really was a lot of variety, many species I had never seen before, and the display designs were also great. My only complaint would be that some visitor areas were bit cramped, and closing at 5pm was way too early! There wasn’t enough time to take in everything.
Ise-ebi (伊勢海老) dinner
Places close early in a small town like Toba. We went to the Toba train station (walkable from the aquarium, or save the effort if you have a bus pass) to find some early dinner. It wasn’t even 5:30 pm yet and it’s already pretty quiet.
Near the station was a little street lined with local restaurants, some of which didn’t even open for dinner (lunch only). All of them are the similar type serving grilled seafood. As we’re in Ise, we decided to give the famous Ise-ebi (Japanese spiny lobster) a try, despite the high price tag. Scanning the menus outside, we went in to the one that seemed the “cheapest” at “2500~”. Note the tilde!
It turned out the price displayed was only a minimum! The owner (presumably) grabbed one of the lobsters from the tank, weighed it, then quoted a price of something like double the amount. While we looked hesitant, she took another smaller one which cost north of 3000 yen. If any smaller I don’t think we’d have much to eat, so we agreed. And there the little lobster got cut in half and put onto the grill.
The lobster tasted great, but just too small for the price. To be fair, I think all the restaurants charge about the same for these (lobster courses are commonly over ten thousand yen), but it would’ve been better if the pricing was more transparent, say showing how much it was per gram. We still didn’t know in the end.
We picked up our rental car at the Toyota shop near the Toba station. We’d be staying at a pension on the hillside tonight which is only accessible by car. The car would be our means of transport for the next two days, as we’d be moving further down the Kii Peninsula (紀伊半島) where public transport is not very convenient.
I should mention however that there is a useful loop bus that stops at all the main places of interest in the Ise and Toba area, i.e. the places we had been to today. A day pass is available for 1000 yen and it includes a discount voucher for the aquarium too.