In Pursuit of The Wellspring of Japanese Beauty

———A journey with a theme

In San Francisco, there is a popular chocolate shop. This shop’s first Japanese location is in Tokyo’s Daito ward, and it’s second location was opened in December of 2016 in Mie Prefecture’s Ise City, along the street that leads to the Outer Shrine (Geku) of the Ise Grand Shrine. At first, I wondered “Why Ise? Why not Osaka or Fukuoka?”

The Outer Shrine of the Ise Grand Shrine
▲The Outer Shrine of the Ise Grand Shrine

On the website “Tsudzuki wa Mie de”, the CEO of the corporation which operates the shop, Mr. Seiji Horibuchi, tells of his first visit to the main shrine of the Outer Shrine; there he felt he had found the wellspring of Japanese beauty.

“I understand…” I thought.

I felt like I wanted to experience this “wellspring of Japanese beauty” for myself. I traveled to Ise, home of the Ise Grand Shrine. I spent two days in the Minami Ise neighborhood, which retains the ambiance of traditional Japan, searching for the wellspring of Japanese beauty.

———Travelling with a guest

I was born and raised in Mie Prefecture, so Ise feels very familiar to me. The point of this trip is to look at Ise the way visitors from other prefectures and other countries would. To help me accomplish this, Irene will accompany me on my journey.


Irene was born to a German father and Japanese mother, and was raised in Japan. After graduating from university in London, she studied drama in France, and now lives in Nagoya, where she is a DJ on a Tokai area radio programme.

On our trip, Irene and I will be accompanied by a photographer, a videographer, and an assistant.

The five of us begin our journey at the chocolate shop.

———9 am. “How nice it is to start our trip with some chocolate!”

Irene tasting chocolate in the shop
▲Sampling the Chocolate

The interior of the shop has a very stylish atmosphere. There is a wide array of artisanal chocolates.

“What a wonderful aroma of chocolate” Irene exclaims.

Hot Chocolate

A look of bliss appears on Irene’s face as she sips this shop’s specialty Ise Hot Chocolate, made with roasted green tea from nearby Watarai township.

“It has an adult sweetness with a smooth finish. Delicious! Holding the rounded cup in both hands feels very harmonious…” she says.

Irene drinking Ise Hot Chocolate and looking blissful

Irene sitting by the window drinking hot chocolate

Irene seems right at home in the modern beauty and stylish atmosphere of the chocolate shop. Is this what it means to be photogenic?

———10 am. Rain Falls, Wind Blows, Sun Shines

Irene at the cleansing waters of the Outer Shrine

A five minute walk from the shop brings us to the Ise Shrine’s Outer Shrine (Geku).

Irene walking the path inside the Outer Shrine

Passing through the torii gates, we enter the pilgrimage path. Next to us, a visitor says “ The air changes when you pass through the gate, doesn’t it?” Indeed, the air feels cooler.

The main shrine of the Outer Shrine
▲The main shrine of the Outer Shrine

The god of food, clothing, and manufacturing, Toyoukeno Oomikami, is enshrined in Ise’s Outer Shrine.

Meals are prepared daily in the building seen in the back of this photograph
▲Meals are prepared daily in the building seen in the back of this photograph

Every morning and evening for over 1500 years, meals are prepared for Amaterasu Oomikami and other major Shinto deities at the Outer Shrine.

The Shrine of the Wind

The gods of wind and rain, Shinatsuhiko No Mikoto and Shinatobe No Mikoto, are enshrined at the Shrine of the Wind.

Elaine bowing

Rain falls, wind blows, the sun shines. Thus life is nurtured, and sustenance created. Here, we give thanks for that sustenance.

“The power of prayer, the power of thanks...that makes this place a power spot…” our photographer remarks.
“That’s right. Not only Ise Shrine, but sacred places all over the world must have this power, don’t you think?” Irene muses.

———11 am. We come across a wonderful cutlery shop on the road that leads to the Outer Shrine.

A lantern on the road to the Outer Shrine

58 lanterns line the road that leads to the Outer Shrine, casting their glow upon a streetscape where modernity and history blend together.

Irene outside a shop

On this road is a shop which not only sells cutlery, but also expresses the history and culture of the town.

Traditional cooking knives

“Knives and other useful everyday tools are often given as wedding gifts in Germany” Irene informs us.

Mythological Fortune Telling

This shop offers something similar to fortune telling. One draws a stick with a number on it and gives it to the person at the counter. In return they give you a slip of paper upon which, instead of a fortune, a tale from Japanese mythology is printed.

A tale from Japanese Mythology

“If you take the story to heart, it is said that the gods will help and support you” the shopkeeper tells us.
“How wonderful!” exclaims Irene.

This shop fits very well with the atmosphere of the street, I think to myself.

In recent years, Ise’s Kawasaki neighborhood has enjoyed a surge in popularity. Traditional townhouses and earthen-walled storehouses can still be seen lining the banks of the Isuzu river there. It also has a newly stylish appeal. Leaving Ise Shrine behind us, we make our way to Kawasaki.

———1 pm. There are some interesting folks in this neighborhood

Kawasaki is about a ten minute drive from the Outer Shrine.

A used book store in Kawasaki

Strolling in Kawasaki, we come to a used book store. We strike up a conversation with the owner, who is very knowledgeable about Kawasaki and Ise Shrine.

books for sale in the used book shop

In the Edo Period (around 1700) there was a boom in pilgrims making the journey to Ise Shrine. In Kawasaki, wholesalers gathered goods from all over Japan. The area was an important point for storing and managing food supplies for the pilgrims.

“Ise really was a wonderland in those days” the owner tells us with a smile.

I can imagine that lively era. Back then the pilgrimage to Ise had to be made at least once in a lifetime. That atmosphere can still be felt in the streets of Kawasaki.

Another shop in Kawasaki draws our attention.

exterior of a shop in Kawasaki

interior of the shop

Irene holding Satonaka Cookies

This shop’s signature product is Satonaka cookies. The name is a play on the word for ten (to) and the word for inside (naka). Each packet contains ten cookies (sa)... cookies ten inside … sa to naka … Satonaka. As it happens, Satonaka is the old name of an area in Kawasaki.

snapshot with the shopkeepers

Designer Takeshi Nakatani (on the left) and manager Yuki Hashimoto are the members of the group EMELON, which makes Satonaka Cookies and other products sold at this shop, called Mona Lisa. Mr. Nakatani has traveled in America and Europe, and even lived in New York for a time.

Irene talks with Mr. Nakatani and Ms. Hashimoto

“Mr. Nakatani, when you returned to Ise from living abroad, why did you choose Ise instead of Tokyo?” Irene asks.

“After seeing America and Europe, I realized that Ise is just as nice any other place I’d been” answers Mr. Nakatani.

“Has Ise changed?”

“Yes. It changes every day. We have to change as well...”

“Wow! We have to change!”

Mr. Nakatani continues.
“Ise is a tourist destination, a place people come to visit. Our hope is that the goods we design are a little bit of Ise which visitors can take home with them, spreading the appeal of Ise.”

Our next destination is the Minami Ise area, where we can experience essential Japanese scenery.

———3 pm. From Sightseeing to Travelling

Snapshot of Irene and a fisherman

After driving for about an hour, we arrive in the fishing village of Asoura. Awaiting us there is Mr. Jun Hashimoto, a local fisherman. He speaks English, and has backpacked all over the world. He works in the family fishing business, and manages a seafood company.
Now then, let’s go fishing!

leaving the port to go fishing

Irene will try her hand at gill net fishing.

Irene catches a blue crab
▲A male blue crab

“Wow, what a beautiful shade of blue!” says Irene.

“This is a male. The male animals often have flashy appearances in order to attact females.” says the fisherman.

“Want to hold it?” he asks.

“’s kind of scary…” Irene replies.

Irene with a female blue crab
▲Next, a female blue crab

“As long as you keep hold of the claws, you’ll be ok!”

“I’m scared!”

Out on the ocean or in nature, people feel a sense of innocence.
Next up is feeding the Ise sea bream, so we start back toward the harbor.

Irene returning to port

Turning to our own thoughts, we pass some quiet time. The rocking of the boat and the rush of the wind in this great open nature reminds us of how small our own existence truly is. View of the sea and mountains from the boat

Time seems to have slowed down. We have learned and experienced so much since this morning, but this interlude refreshes our spirits. At this moment, surrounded by the beauty of sky, sea, and mountains, I feel our journey is becoming one of expression.

———5 pm. Let go of complicated things and ways of thinking and become simple, smart, and sharp.

We head to Sogaura in Minami Ise.


This old elementary school has found a second life as a guesthouse, where we will stay the night.

guesthouse decoration
▲A objet d’art in the guesthouse
barbeque area next to the guest house
▲Next to the guesthouse is a barbeque area

Mr. Hashimoto will have dinner with us at the on-site barbeque area.

 Irene preparing bream for the barbeque

In the kitchen, Irene prepares salt grilled sea bream with the help of the fisherman. Soon it is ready.

Irene eating salt grilled sea bream

Irene says “It smells wonderful, and look at how juicy it is!”

In addition to the fish, cockles and scallops and other delicacies from the sea are put on the grill. It’s not every day one can enjoy a delicious meal in a setting like this. The conversation around the fire goes on and on.

seafood barbeque

“My life is crenellated like the coastline here…” says the fisherman.

There is laughter at these cryptic words, but there is also a kind of understanding.

“I have lived abroad, but Japan really has an understated aesthetic…” says the videographer.

“If the base ingredients are good, a simple seasoning is all you need…” says the photographer.

I nod slowly and sigh.
Let go of complicated things and ways of thinking, and become simple, smart, and sharp. I reflect on this as I recall the events of our day in Ise and Minami Ise. The designs of the man who said “we must change too” were smart and simple.
I feel the beauty of nature in Minami Ise.

chopsticks and salt grilled bream

Giving thanks for one’s food means giving thanks for the life one is partaking of. I feel that one must also give thanks for the natural world that nurtures the life of which one partakes.
Perhaps that thankfulness for nature and life is expressed in the beauty of Ise Shrine.
I have come to see this as the wellspring of Japanese beauty.

I fall asleep with the desire to experience this Japanese beauty again tomorrow.

———8 am. A photogenic fishing village

▲Dried dorado for breakfast
the fishing village

Morning. The buildings huddled together like a family is characteristic of fishing villages.
The pleasant rumble of the engines of the fishing boats and sound of waves are about the only sounds to be heard as we stroll in the village. There are hardly any man-made things to obstruct our view.

Irene standing on the seaside

Fishing has been at the center of life in this village for ages. In this smart and simple landscape, sculpted by time, I can sense the beauty of Japan.

Colorful seaside shack

Irene and the colorful shack

“Photogenic…” the word slips from my lips.

As I come out of my reverie, everyone is smiling as if they were gazing at a freshly blossomed flower.

———10 am. It doesn’t take a lot to feel refreshed...

We head to the Nankai scenic overlook to enjoy the view of the bay.

View from the overlook park 1

The beautiful scenery spreads out before us, the blue sea glittering in the sun.

View from the overlook park 2

In the glittering of the sea I feel the sparkle of all life on Earth on a grand scale.
This too, I feel, is a wellspring of Japanese beauty.
Perhaps this feeling of gratitude toward nature, to live amidst this natural beauty, is also a source of Japanese beauty.

I ponder this.

We notice something else staring out to sea at the Nankai Scenic overlook.

Overlook Object 1

Overlook Object 2

There is a modern art object which looks like a display at an international art festival.

Irene posing with the object

We adopt the statue’s pose and take some pictures. It lifts our spirits.

This brings our journey to a close.
“It doesn’t take a lot to make one feel refreshed.”
Irene’s words make an impression on me as we drive back to Ise.

We arrive at Kintetsu Ujiyamada Station in Ise.

restaurant exterior

Our photographer lives in Ise and he recommends a local specialty, the fried chicken rice bowl.

Irene eating fried chicken rice bowl

If you want to eat something delicious, it is best to ask the locals.
Wherever your travels take you, someone is waiting for you there.
To eat is to live.
Therefore you should do your best to enjoy it.


A sacred place for photogenic lovers...

Irene at Heart Bay

Heart Bay (Ugura Park, Minami Ise)

Irene and the Postbox in the Sky

Postbox in the Sky (Ise Shima Skyline Scenic Overlook)

September 28-29, 2017
Produced for Web magazine Otonamie
Reporter: Yusuke Murayama (Otonamie)

Produced with the cooperation of:

Dandelion Chocolate Japan
Ise Geku Mae Umiyamaahida Muse Ten
Mie Prefecture, Ise City
Honmachi 20-24
Tel 0596-63-6631

Ise Jingu
Mie Prefecture, Ise City
Ujikancho 1
Tel 0596-24-1111

Ise Kikuichi
Mie Prefecture, Ise City
Honmachi 18-18
Tel 0596-28-4933

Furuhonya Borann
Mie Prefecture, Ise City
Kawasaki 2 chome 13-8
Tel 0596-24-7139

Mie Prefecture, Ise City
Kawasaki 2-4-4
Tel 0596-22-7600

Yuuei Suisan
Mie Prefecture, Watari Gun
Minami Ise Cho Asoura 345
Tel 0596-72-1351

Fureai to Taiken No Kan “Umi Bozu”
Mie Prefecture, Watari Gun
Minami Ise Cho Sogaura 371-1
Tel 0599-64-0010

Manpuku Shokudou
Mie Prefecture, Ise City
Iwabuchi 2 chome 2-18
Tel 0596-24-7976