Plan for the day
The plan for today was to go all the way to Hamamatsu city. Rather than to drive all the way, we opted to travel a section of the journey on a car ferry. This would reduce the need to loop around the Ise Bay and shorten our driving by 100 km.
We reached Hamamatsu city about an hour late but still managed to join the Hamamatsu Festival, “Parade of Palace Floats” at the city center (downtown).
Breakfast at Hotel Kawakami
Breakfast was in a restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel. For a price of only ¥800 we had a very nice breakfast. I was glad I took up its breakfast option. If we were to eat elsewhere, for the same price we would just have gotten a bowl of ramen and not a tray of 8 items.
We enjoyed the breakfast very much, though every plate had a small portion of food, they added up to a satisfying meal, a great start to a beautiful day.
Fish kites along the beach
From our hotel we drove for about 400 metres when we reached the road running parallel to the beach and were so surprised to see a long row of huge and colourful fish kites along the beach. We quickly found a place to park our car and came down to explore.
In Japan there were a couple places very famous for their celebration of “Children’s Day” by flying “carp streamers” (Koinobori). Unfortunately those places were way off our driving route and we had to leave them out of our itinerary.
It was a great delight to encounter “carp” kites at Kumano city. Along the beach, there were hundreds of “craps” “swimming” gracefully in the air. The stronger the wind the higher they “swam”.
Originally 3rd of May was celebrated as a “Boy’s Day”. Carps were used for decoration because they stood for courage and determination (as these fish needed to swim up stream in swift running water), traits that were desired in boys.
After a government’s decree that converted “Boy’s Day” to “Children’s Day”, 3rd of May became a day to celebrate the happiness of both boys and girls.
Ise Oharai-machi (Edo looking town)
We drove northward toward Ise City. Our destination was the Inner Shrine of Ise Jingu (Ise Grand Shrine) which was about 106 km from our hotel. Just when we were about 3 km from the Inner Shrine we found that our turn off from the expressway into Ise City blocked. Traffic wardens barricaded the turn-off and we were forced to drive forward. The next three turn-offs were also blocked and we were forced to drive further and further away from our destination.
Finally we managed to get off the expressway and found alternate way to get back to Ise city, I knew that today was still part of the Japan Golden week (public holiday) and the Japanese were out in full force visiting popular places. It seemed that Ise Jingu was one of those places and blocking the turn offs into the city for out-off-town passenger cars reduced the traffic congestion. Visitors were encouraged to get to popular places by public transport.
This was another occasion when we found having 24/7 internet connection very useful. After we turned off the expressway we knew that there was no way to go into Ise city via the expressway. Rather than to abandon our visit to Ise Jingu, we used google map to chart our way back into city via small village roads.
In our attempt to reach a car park just outside the Inner Shrine we somehow drove onto a “no entry to car” road. We only became aware of it when we found that the road was no longer a tar road but a paved street. Hordes of people were walking on the street, they moved from shops to shops that lined both sides of the road. This place looked a like a merchant town from the “Edo Period”.
Apparently we had driven into Ise Oharai-machi which was closed to traffic. It was impossible to U-turn so we could only inch forward to avoid the human traffic. One of the Japanese shop owners looked so stun to see our car coming up the street, he crossed his hands to signal to us not to drive forward but we gestured back to him that we did not know how to get out of the street. He quickly removed some cone barricades and directed us to turn left onto a bridge.
The bridge brought us out of the human congested street. Immediately after the bridge we saw a parking sign, so we parked and paid an old lady ¥1000. The lady was the owner of the car park land and a house adjacent to it. Cut throat parking fee! I began to have second thought when I saw a couple of cars parked randomly along the dirt path along the river just a short distance away. Could we parked there for free? Too late we had already paid.
We walked across the bridge and back into the “Edo Period” looking old market town. From there we would be able to walk to the Inner Shrine of Ise Jingu.
The street was packed with visitors and everyone’s favourite past time seemed to be eating. Long queues after queues were formed outside food stalls and shops selling all types of food, drinks, ice creams, cakes, noodles, seafood etc etc. The food smell filled the air as we squeezed our way through the crowd to get to the shrine. We decided that food would have to wait till the return trip.
ISE JINGU (ISE GRAND SHRINE)
The crowd did not thin out at the end of the street where it opened into a square just before a long wooden pedestrian bridge, Ugi-bashi Bridge that spanned across Isuzugawa River. The bridge led into the Inner Shrine (Naiku) of Ise Jingu. Just before the bridge was a huge wooden torii gate.
Interesting both the bridge and torii gate were not painted in the standard vermilion color, they were not painted at all.
Ise Jingu (Ise Grand Shrine) was a shrine complex composing of over hundred individual shrines covering an area of 5500 hectares. It was considered as the holiest of all shrines in Japan and Japanese were encouraged to visit it at least once in their life time. The Grand shrine was divided into two main parts, Inner Shrine ( Naiku 内宮) and Outer Shrine (Geku 外宮) which were 6 km apart.
In our itinerary for this trip, we only planned to visit the Inner Shrine (Naiku).This shrine was established over 2000 years ago dedicated to Sun Goddess Amaterasu Omikami and this location was chosen because of the tranquility provided by the thick forest of large trees. Unfortunately, this tranquility was not apparent as the entire place was packed with people. Instead of seeing the trees and the forest we saws heads over heads of the people in front of us. Instead of peace and quietness we heard the thousands of foot steps rubbing against the gravel ground. It was difficult to stroll slowly as we were compelled into a forward march by all the people around us.
After some distance we came to a purification trough/hut, by now we were very familiar with the purification custom prior to entering a sacred place so we took our turns among the many visitors to wash our hands at the trough. As we walked further we came to an embankment of the Isuzugawa river where some visitors were using the sacred water of the River for another purification process.
After we passed another unpainted torii gate we reached the Kaguraden. Most people stayed outside the building, many were queuing up to buy amulets and other were just walking by. Nobody seemed to be interested in going into the building.
When we walked into the Kaguraden we found ourselves in a totally different environment, peace and quietness. There was nobody but us. In the building there were resting rooms, water dispensers and toilets. We took a rest, a drink and a break from the hectic crowd outside.
By the time we reached the main shrine we found a huge crowd amassed at the base of the steps leading up to its door. The people were waiting patiently for their turn to proceed to the top of the steps and to offer their prayers at door entrance of the shrine. It seemed like entry into the main shrine was not permitted.
Unlike the Kagurenden, the main shrine looked very simple. It was a simple thatch hut made of unpainted cypress wood in ancient Japanese style. Apparently all the building materials for the roofs, floors and ornaments came entirely from Japanese white cypress that were found in the surrounding forest. It was designed in a special architectural style which was prohibited for any other shrines. Every twenty years, the old shrine and Uji-bashi bridge were dismantled and a new one built to exacting specifications which recreated the original design from the third or fourth century. The new shrine and bridge were not considered as a replica but was “Ise re-created” sort of like always renewed and reborn. The 62nd rebuilding was completed in 2013 and the next rebuilding would take place in 2033
The original Ise Shrine was built before Buddhism and Chinese influence entered into Japan so till today the shrine showed no influence from the Asian mainland.
The Inner Shrine was surrounded by 90 hectares of forest which I understood had not been cut since the first construction of the shrine. So I supposed some of the trees must be very “centuries” old.
We left the Inner Shrine at about 2 pm and walked back to our car via the street of the Old Market. The street just like three hours ago was still as crowded. It looked like this place would be packed from morning till night. I did not mind the crowded street as it enhanced the festive mood of a public holiday (Golden week) on the other hand how I wished that the Shrine could be so much less crowded so that visitors could experience the serene nature of the forest surrounding the shrine.
On our way to Hamamatsu City
There were two routes to Hamamatsu City, one was a 225 km drive looping around the Ise Bay the other was a more direct route which involved a 111 km drive with a ferry trip in between.
The first route would probably be faster and cheaper, as for the second route there would be some delay due to waiting time for the ferry and costlier as there would be ferry charges for humans and car. But we still decided to go by route 2 because it would be more relaxing and fun and less driving for Yat Thong.
From Ise Jingu to Toba port, where we would board a car ferry, was supposed to be a rather straight forward 15 km, 30 min drive. But for whatever reason unknown to us, our car GPS took us via a longer and windier route (20 km) that went up Mount Asamagatake before going down to the port. We were also charged ¥1250 at the start of the road (Ise Shima Skyline), a very expensive price for just 20 km. The only redemption was at midway there was a viewing deck that provided a top view of the city around Port Toba. Sadly the weather was gloomy so the skyline was very gray.
Isewan Ferry Terminal
At the port we drove straight to Isewan Ferry Terminal. We were directed to park our car at one side and to go to the 2nd level for our tickets. We bought two tickets, one for ¥5660 for the car including the driver and another for ¥1550 for me the passenger. There was a restaurant at the same level so we went in to eat a late lunch.
The waitress was very nice, she knew that we were going on a ferry so she advised us which were the food we should order so that they could be cooked and eaten within the duration we had before the ferry arrived.
Thanks to her thoughtfulness we did not have to rush through our lunch. Both of us had udon and the cost came up to ¥1940 .
Driving our car onto the ferry was pretty orderly and easy. The ferry crews did a good job guiding our car into the ferry car holding area. After securing our car we walked up one level to the passenger lounge.
The passenger lounge was very clean and comfortable. It was fully air conditioned and had a cafeteria counter. We ordered coffee (americano) but it tasted pretty bland. Time passed very quickly and in just one hour we arrived at Irago Port.
From Irago Port to Hamamatsu was about 75 km but it took us 2 hours to travel that distance. Firstly, it was a non express road so we were driving at only 50 km an hour, secondly as and when we entered a town (and there were several) we seemed to encounter “red” light at every traffic junction, thirdly in between towns we often found ourselves driving behind a slow car or a truck on a one lane road!
It was a very boring and slow drive and we were only too glad when we spotted a shop selling coffee. We got ourselves cafe latte and it was the “good” type. Finally for the first time on our this trip we got a wonderful aromatic cafe latte.
Nearer to Hamamatsu we got stuck in the slow moving traffic. By the time we were near our hotel it was already past 7.30 pm.
Hamamatsu Kite Festival
We were in Hamamatsu to experience its Kite Festival that started on 3rd May and ended two days later. The festival had two main events, a “kite-war” event in the day at the beach and a “Parade of Palace Floats” event in the evening in the downtown area.
Our plan was to go for the “Parade of Palace Floats” event once we reached Hamamatsu and to join the “Kite war” event the next day. So I booked our room at Toyoko Inn Hamamatsu which was downtown within walking distance to the center of activities.
Unfortunately by the time we were near our hotel at around 7.30 pm, all roads leading to the town center (center of activities) were closed to traffic, so we could not drive up to our hotel.
We found a car park to park our car, grabbed our overnight bags and cameras and walked 700 metres to Toyoko Inn Hamamatsu. Our hotel was just next to the downtown shopping district and the whole place was already bursting with celebration.
At the check in counter of Toyoko Inn, the receptionist told us that after 10 pm, the road blockages would be lifted and we could bring in our car to the hotel car park. We quickly dumped our bags and was back into the street to join in the celebration.
A Parade of Palace Float
I read from Hamamatsu Festival website that there were 104 palace stands (floats) participating in Hamamatsu Festival and 83 of those would parade around the center of commerce (down town). Wow 83 palace floats! It must be an awesome sight!
We rushed down to the town center but we did not see more than five palace floats. We searched and searched but we did not count more than 5. So where were the rest?
The Palace Floats were very beautiful. They had exquisite and intricate wood carving on their roofs. In each float sat a bevy of beautiful young girls beating drums and bells and blowing flutes and singing in synchronisation. In front of the float were rows of costume dressed participants pulling two ropes that were tied to the front of the float. These rope were for “show” only. In the ancient time, these floats rolled on their heavy wooden wheels pulled by participants as for today in Hamamatsu these wheels were running mechanically either by diesel or petrol.
Some groups of participants put up a “flag” show and others did mass dancing. Generally, I found the festival participants a bit chaotic. By about 9 pm the “Parade of the Palace Floats” ended and the participants dispersed.
Narita Gion and Sawara Maturi
During my previous trip to Japan in a summer, at both Narita and Sawara I witnessed festive floats being pulled through the streets in the “ancient way”. In front of each heavy float were two thick ropes and they were pulled in synchronisation by hundreds of participants. Their team work, determination and energy filled the air and reached out to the cheering spectators around them.
After the “Parade of the Palace Floats” was over we moved on to look for food for a very late dinner. We were tired so did not want to explore too far away. We walked into a restaurant called “坐” because it was the first restaurant we saw and the food pictures placed outside look nice. It did not look like a cheap place but we were too hungry to go elsewhere.
Surprising the food/dishes were rather inexpensive. Cheaper than the price we would have to pay back home in an equivalent restaurant.
There were many items on the menu and their prices were very inexpensive, mostly below ¥500. We would love to order more but it was late and we did not want to go to sleep with a full stomach so we held back.
We ordered three items, a pizza, a seafood salad and a gyoza (10 dumplings). Green tea was served free. It was fun sitting in our own personal cubicle eating and enjoying our food. Each cubicle had a curtain which gave some form of privacy. There were many cubicles around us and though we could not see the occupants in the next cubicles we could hear them talking and laughing.
We had a relaxing dinner, eating leisurely, scanning through the photos we had taken, surfing the net and reviewing our next day itinerary. We rested till we no longer felt tired before leaving.
The cost of the dinner came up to ¥1522 including taxes, a very good price for a great dinner. We left the restaurant and walked 600 metres to the car park where we left our car and drove it to our hotel.
Accommodation for the Night
Our hotel Toyoko Inn Hamamatsu was just next to a train station in the down town area. We paid ¥7776 for the room and ¥500 for parking. As like all other Toyoko Inns breakfast the next morning would be free.
Months before this night, the hotel had been sending me emails advising me not to drive into Hamamatsu city because of expected heavy congestion due to the festival. I wrote back to them seeking for advise as how or where I should park my rented car but got no replies. They could have at least told me about the timing of the road block to the hotel so that I could try to arrive before that time. Maybe it was a language problem that prevented them for replying. Maybe the city policy was to discourage drive in and the hotel did not want to say anything that encourage us to drive in.