Okay Yokocho in autumn
A street in Okage Yokocho
The famous Akafuku mochi, sold in Oharaimachi
See you in Oharai
In the Edo period the great shrines of Ise, Geku and Naiku, were a popular place of pilgrimage for the Japanese. After a long and difficult journey, the pilgrims were welcomed in the district of Oharaimachi, near to Naiku. The area has managed to keep its soul and conviviality.
The name of the district Oharaimachi comes from that of the onshi, Shinto missionary priests who lived in this neighborhood and welcomed pilgrims to their homes. They offered lodgings and shelter, but also practiced purification rituals called oharai, replacing those of the high priests of the shrines reserved for the nobles. They also practiced kagura, a sacred dance accompanied by music.
From Uji bridge, along the Isuzu River, to Naiku, the inner shrine of Ise: along this 800-meter long street, there are many shopkeepers in traditional buildings offering their specialties. They include:
- Ise udon, thick Ise noodles topped with negi or Japanese green onions, dried bonito flakes and a rich, soy-based broth.
- Tekone zushi , tuna sashimi with soy on vinegared rice.
- Ise cha, the green tea of Ise - Mie Prefecture is the third largest tea producing region in Japan.
- Akafuku, a sweet snack made of rice paste (mochi) with red bean jam, the name means "red mochi of happiness".
In the middle of this long street, about level with the Akafuku sign, a street overlooks a new shopping district called Okage Yokocho, recreated as it was in the Edo period.
It welcomes you every weekend with entertainment, taiko or Japanese drum shows, kamishibai, a kind of small outdoor theater where a storyteller presents a traditional Japanese history.
There is also the Okage-za Museum which presents the main Japanese myths, as well as the history of the pilgrimages to Ise.
Rewards for early risers
One of the great customs of Ise is the tsuitachi mairi: on the first day of each month people get up much earlier than usual and go to the shrine and thank the kami for their protection, as well as ask for their blessing for the coming month.
A few shops and restaurants are exceptionally open very early on this day to serve kayu, a traditional rice porridge. From 5am onwards, a limited edition cake is offered at Akafuku. Hundreds of people wait in line down the street to get this precious treat. There is also a market open from 4am.
Can you get up early enough to join the regulars?