A Culinary Stroll Around Ise Jingu Shrine! Five Selected Local Foods
Since its foundation about 2,000 years ago, Ise Jingu Shrine has been worshipped as the honso, the most sacred of all shrines in Japan. It is also affectionately called “Oise-san.” Ise Jingu Shrine, simply called “Jingu” officially, is not a single shrine but a collective name of 125 shrines, mainly consisting of “Naiku” (inner shrines) and “Geku” (outer shrines).
Behind the big torii gate is “Naiku” of Ise Jingu.
The grounds are surrounded by seasonal flowers and trees, along with the clear stream of the Isuzu River.
People from all over Japan visit Ise Jingu in Mie Prefecture as a kind of pilgrimage called “Oise-mairi” (visiting Oise-san). For these travelers, restaurants and souvenir shops stand in front of the “Naiku” gate. After offering prayers and walking around the vast area of the shrine, don’t miss the delicious local foods beyond the gate, a must-do for “Oise-mairi.”
Oharai-machi is a street stretching about 800 meters lined on both sides with various kinds of shops and historical buildings. You won’t get bored strolling on this very lively street.
The streetscape of Okage-yokocho makes you feel as if you were transported over 200 years back in time.
As you walk, have fun spotting the maneki-neko (lucky cat) statues scattered throughout the area.
1. Must-try local dish No. 1! Ise Udon
If you visit Ise Jingu, you must try the local specialty dish, Ise udon. The thick, soft noodles are different from the springy texture of regular udon noodles. In a word, they are “fluffy.” This unusual, tender texture really must be tried firsthand. A special sweet, salty soy sauce-based broth coats the noodles thoroughly. Despite its dark appearance, the taste is not overpowering, so you can eat to your heart’s content.
This noodle dish was originally created especially for visitors who came all the way to the shrine and needed something nutritious and easy to digest.
“Fukusuke” is one of the most venerable Ise udon restaurants. The atmosphere here is just how it was in the Edo period.
2. Must-try local dish No. 2! Akafuku mochi
The other must-eat local dish is a Japanese delicacy called “Akafuku mochi”, the signature product of “Akafuku,” a venerable wagashi (Japanese sweets) shop founded in 1707. The soft mochi topped with koshi-an (smooth bean paste) is modeled after the murmur of the Isuzu River, with the three grooves on the paste representing the clear stream, and the white mochi representing a pebble at the bottom of the river.
The main shop on Okage-yokocho is in an elegant building which has stood for more than 140 years, where you can enjoy freshly-made Akafuku mochi and tea while taking in the view of the Isuzu River. The mild sweetness helps relieve the fatigue of your long walk.
3. Perfect for eating while walking. Various kinds of soft-serve ice cream
Soft-serve ice cream is a staple of any tourist spot. When walking tires us, we crave something cold and sweet. Many shops serve soft-serve ice cream on Oharai-machi and Okage-yokocho. This time, we chose mikan soft-serve ice cream made with oranges from Mie Prefecture (left). The tartness of mikan orange is just right. A rare sweet-potato soft-serve ice cream (right) with a faint sweet potato aroma was also delicious.
4＆5. Perfect for drinkers: local beer and grilled oysters
Already well known as a sake region, recently, Mie Prefecture’s local beer is also gaining popularity. “Ise Kadoya Microbrewery” in Oharai-machi serves local beer, along with the famed oysters from Ise Bay. Choose one of the tasting sets, and try many kinds of authentic beer in small portions.
Various kinds of snacks are available, including deep-fried oysters, grilled oysters, and steamed oysters. An especially recommended snack is grilled oysters, loaded with umami and fragrance.
Pick up some local beer as a souvenir from the liquor shop near the brewery. For many, its love at first sight when they see the brand “Neko Nihiki” with its label of two pretty cats. Developed in collaboration with an American brewery, the cats on the label are the beloved pets of the brewer, and that of the president of Ise Kadoya. The bold flavors like citrus and tropical fruit, combined with the refreshing bitterness leaving no aftertaste, is exquisite, and has earned the brand a gold medal in worldwide competition.
There are so many other delicious local dishes, and popular shops around Ise Jingu. If you visit the shrine, make sure to enjoy a stroll around Monzen-machi.
*The information herein is as of April 2020.