Discover Ise-Shima: an authentic side of Japan

12 Apr 2021Updated: 4 hours ago | 52 people are reading

Discover Ise-Shima: an authentic side of Japan

© Lonely Planet Discover Ise-Shima: an authentic side of Japan

Ise-Shima is known as the home of Ise-jing?, one of Japan's most revered shrines. For many travelers, this sanctuary is everything they see in the area. However, there is much more to discover in this special corner of Kansai. This way you can admire the ama diving culture, enjoy the island life, see museums and taste seafood.

Meet the ama, the Japanese seafarers

In Japan there are around 2000 women who still dive into the sea according to the age-old tradition to search for shellfish and seaweed. They are known as ama. About 800 of these 2000 women live and work in the Ise-Shima area. The number of ama divers has fallen dramatically because younger women do not choose the profession of their female ancestors (most ama are around 50/60 years old), but you can still see them in action in the small fishing village of Osatsu. © Offered by Pijper Publishing BV Discover Ise-Shima: an authentic side of Japan

Along the waterfront of Osatsu it is chock-full of ama-goya, rustic huts where divers relax, eat and getting together. In the center of the village is the beautiful Shinmei-jinja, a shrine that gives women strength and prosperity when they honor the god Ishigami-san (unfortunately only one wish per woman, so ladies, make a good choice!). The best part is the possibility to enjoy a freshly grilled seafood lunch prepared by the local divers. There are two main ama-goya where visitors can have lunch: one at the harbor and the other on top of the cliff overlooking the bay. The selection varies depending on the season, but includes mussels, sazae (shellfish), dried fish, oysters, soup and rice (check for reservations).

As you walk through the village, pay attention to the rune-like doman seiman symbols: a five-pointed star stands for a safe return, the grid pattern protects against evil. Ama these talismans traditionally wear on their headscarves, you can buy the symbols on amulets at the sanctuary and even at the houses of the ama you can discover the symbols, scratched in stones.

Take an island trip

You will find the island of Toshi-jima by ferry, 30 minutes from the city of Toba. Here the relaxed rhythm of the sea prevails and visitors get an idea of ??Japan that is completely different from Tokyo. During a walk on this small island you will probably see how wakame (seaweed) is processed on the waterfront and sweet potatoes are laid to dry in the sun. You can see the Mitarashi shrine, with its dragon-shaped tree, and wooden houses along the narrow paths of the sleepy town.

It is possible to visit Toshi-jima independently, but for a deeper to get to know the island life you better follow an ecotour with an English speaking guide of the Kaito Yumin Club. Equally a great way to get in touch with islanders and get a delicious meal in a cafe run by ama.

Learn about marine life

The award-winning Toba Sea-Folk Museum is full of art objects, types of tools, documents, clothing and photos that together tell the story of people from the region and their connection to the ocean. You'll find everything from the smallest fishing hooks to a full submarine and there is even a replica Edo fishing boat hanging from the ceiling, complete with life-size models of fishermen trying to hoist their catch on board. The museum also shows an informative English-language short film about the culture and history of AMA diving.

Especially the collection of about 100 wooden boats from all parts of the country and Asia is impressive: simple canoes and brightly colored fishing boats lie side by side on the dry. The museum is located about 10 kilometers south of the city center of Toba; buses run from the station there.

Do you delve into pearls

Ever wondered how pearls are made, processed and polished? You can find the answer in the detailed Mikimoto Pearl Museum in the city of Toba. For the uninitiated: Mikimoto is one of the best known names in the world of pearls. Their story began in 1890, when a determined son of a noodle owner discovered the art of pearl cultivation. After a number of failed experiments, he became a celebrated entrepreneur who was allowed to meet two Japanese emperors. In addition to scientific exhibitions, you will find jewelery exhibitions in the museum. The small adjoining Kokichi Mikimoto Memorial Hall tells the story of Mikimoto's life. This museum is also worth a visit.

Visit a traditional katsuobushi smoke hut

Katsuobushi (a form of dried bonito - that's a fish ) is an essential part of Japanese cooking. It forms the basis of the often made dashi broth that is used for, among other things, miso soup. Ise-Shima has been producing it for centuries; their katsuobushi is known as the best in Japan, even big city chefs get it from this region. The traditional methods of drying, smoking and yeast are still being used: it is the ultimate slow food. The result is hard fillets that are then flaked. Tenpaku, 30 kilometers south of the city of Toba, makes these products in a smokehouse on the water. To learn more about this katsuobushi you can make a reservation through - you must be able to speak Japanese or bring a Japanese speaker who can help you. Or pay a visit during your tour with the Kaito Yumin Club.

© Offered by Pijper Publishing BV Discover Ise-Shima: an authentic side of Japan

Looking for oysters < / h2>

Seafood is abundant in Ise-Shima, but oysters are the specialty. About 30 kaki-goya (oyster huts) are scattered along the roads in Uramura, 10 kilometers south of the city of Toba. These are eateries in the open air, with communal tables, where oysters are grilled over charcoal. The food is fresh, tasty and for an excellent price. At the Uramura Oyster Kakitarou you can buy an oyster from ¥ 120 each (around € 1). Some kaki-goya allow guests to bring their own drinks and some have all-you-can-eat menus. You can get a map of all the oyster huts at the Toba City Tourism Information Center.

Make it happen

The main regional nodes are Ise and Toba; you can reach them by express train, just two hours from Kyoto, Osaka or Nagoya. There are good opportunities to reach places outside the main centers of Ise-Shima by public transport. However, it is best to travel around with your own transport. You can rent a car at Nippon Rent a Car or at Toyota Rent a Car. These car companies have their offices in Toba and other important centers. If you do not yet have a Japan Rail pass and want to travel around Kansai by train for a few days, it is best to buy a Kintetsu train pass. This covers all your transportation costs in Kansai, also towards the airport of Kansai.


In central Toba is the big hotel / ryokan Todaya, a nice stay because of the many themed onsen baths. If you want a more traditional ryokan experience, go to ryokan Denyou in Osatsu, known for its delicious seafood. A little further away is the modern resort of Kintetsu Aqua Villa ise-Shima, overlooking Ago Bay. A small budget? Ise Guest House Kazami is a good choice, close to the JR Ise-shi station.

Opening image: yoko_ken_chan / iStock