Ise-Shima National Park 伊勢志摩国立公園

We know what you’re thinking: Ise-Shima, off the beaten path, really? We must be joking. After all, 6.5 million visitors disembark at Ise every year to pay their respects at the shrine of Amaterasu, the great ancestral goddess of the Imperial Family. Japanese have journeyed to Ise for thousands of years. On weekends, the forested grounds are packed with pilgrims and tourists, and on holidays the crowds can reach legendary proportions. Few paths are more beaten than the road to Ise.

But most follow a strict and hyper-efficient visitation schedule: they visit the shrines, pray, and chow down on the local cuisine: Ise lobster, perhaps, or a bowl of dark-sauced udon with akafuku sweets for dessert. Fully sated, they hop back on their tour buses to journey onward, presumably to more attraction-dense areas like Kyoto or Nara. Few stay longer to explore the historic neighborhood of Kawasaki and the tiny island of Kamishima.

Kawasaki (河崎)

Walking from Ise-shi station in the opposite direction from the shrines, you’ll reach Kawasaki in about ten minutes. Entering the neighborhood is a bit like stepping through a time warp. Running parallel to the Seta River (勢田川) canal is a stretch of old merchant houses and kura (old warehouses) that evoke the bygone Edo era. Kawasaki first developed as a wholesale supply center, capitalizing on the tourist trade of the nearby shrines by selling stocks of sugar, salt, alcohol, rice and other food staples, in addition to more specialized products like lacquerware and wooden craft objects.

Although many of the old merchant houses have become private museums, the neighborhood is no mere fossilized historical showpiece. Some of the heritage buildings are still very much in use, including a 17th century katsuobushi (dried bonito) business, a store selling traditional Japanese geta and zori sandals, a confectionary specializing in sweet Itoin rice crackers, and a charming ryokan that prides itself on its macrobiotic meals. (The ryokan, named Hoshidekan 星出館, is a delightful place to spend the night. Rooms run ¥4,000-10,000 per person per night, depending on what meal options you choose.) If you want to sample nightlife with an Edo-era twist, don your yukata and sally up to Tamaya, a cheery wine and sake bar housed in a 150-year-old warehouse.

Kamishima (神島)

Kamishima (God Island) is known principally as the setting for Yukio Mishima’s novel “The Sound of Waves” (Shiosai). The island’s town is tiny—a maze of narrow lanes and clapboard homes hugging the harbor hillsides. There is no real service industry to speak of; we recommend that the intrepid traveler pack a picnic lunch.

From the harbor, a meandering, sometimes steep path will take you around the perimeter of the island, past venerable shrines, beautiful karst-limestone cliffs, swimming beaches and lookouts with fantastic views of the coast and Ise Bay. For such a small place, Kamishima seems unusually rich with scenery and wildlife. Seahawks skirr the skies high above, cormorants fish the surrounding seas, black swallowtails flit among the pine groves, and skinks and snakes slither along the forest floor. A complete circuit of the island without stopping takes about an hour, but allow extra time at either Niwano (ニワの浜) or Gori Beach (古里の浜) in warmer months for a swim.

To get to Kamishima, take a short train ride from Ise-shi to the coastal city of Toba. Board one of two morning ferries (7:40am, 10:40am) bound for Kamishima; forty minutes later, you’re there. Returning boats depart Kamishima at 12:50 and 3:55pm. An adult roundtrip ticket costs ¥1420.











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