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Shall I have the wagyu burger? It`s a tough decision. I am 5 minutes walk from the main shrine at Ise. Strolling the back streets outside, I have already eaten a bowl of chubby Ise udon noodles, a minced pork slice and a shark meat onigiri. Conspicuous consumption is addictive. And fun. So joining the spirit of the insatiable crowds, I tuck in.
In theory, it`s not the food but faith that brings millions of Japanese to Ise each year. The seaside town is home to the Spirit of Japan, according to the brochure. The founding gods of the nation are enshrined here. Respect is required.
I check my shirt for mayonnaise stains before crossing the sacred bridge.
At Naiku, the main inner shrine, thousands of Japanese tread the gravel path leading to the secretive and secluded spirit of the nation. Many stop to purify themselves in the waters of the Isuzu river, and most pose for a quick commemorative photo before walking up the stone steps towards the gate of the myth-shrouded inner shrine.
You can`t go in, or take photos. Outside the closed door is a large wooden box lined with a white cotton blanket. Visitors drop cash into the box, clap, say a quick prayer then wander back to have another wagyu burger…..or a sharkmeat onigiri…..or a choux cream by the river…..or a local Sinto beer…..or all 4 of these. It does not matter which. Gluttony is guilt-free.
For centuries and more, from Osaka, Nagoya, Kyoto and Tokyo pilgrims have ambled along the mochi highway to Ise. Even a talking dog from Gunma made the sacred saunter. Perhaps he sniffed the pork going into the frying pan.
An elderly visitor from Tokyo told me, “100 years ago, in my grandfather`s time, there was no cinema or TV, going on a pilgrimage with friends from the village was entertainment”. This is as true now as it was then.
A stay in Ise is part of the new for 2012, Emperors` Footsteps small group tour.