Road Trip In Summer to Kii Peninsula (Part 1)

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Road Trip In Summer to Kii Peninsula (Part 1)

Begin from Matsusaka in Mie Prefecture and check out the ruins of the Matsusaka Castle. The castle was built in 1588 by Ujisato Gamou, a retainer of Nobunaga Oda. It was named one of the Great Castles in Japan because of its beautiful wall made of natural stones.

Explore the area around the castle and as you walk along a nostalgic street, look out for the traditional buildings on both sides of the road. These include about 20 houses which used to be inhabited by samurai, who were castle guards during the Edo period. The descendants of samurai live here too.

Head by car towards Ise Shrine, known as the centre of all shrines in Japan. Kyu Sangu-dou, also called Ise Kaidou, is the 70km-road leading to the shrine. During the Edo era, each year, five million people would visit the shrine and its surroundings through Kyu Sangu-dou. In Ise city, try a speciality of the area, Henba mochi. In the past, visitors had to cross the Miyagawa River by boat to get to Ise Shrine. They would make a stopover at a tea house by the river and rice cakes would be served to them. People later started calling these rice cakes Henba mochi.

After this, continue driving along the old Sando Street towards Ise Shrine. The shrine was established about 2,000 years ago and the Isuzu River runs through it. People used to purify themselves in the river before going to the shrine. After visiting this world-famous shrine, go to Okage Yokocho. The Oharai-machi street near the shrine has an Edo-era atmosphere. Drop by a Japanese cake shop, Akafuku, which has a history of over 300 years. Its signature cake is the Akafuku mochi, which is well-known all over Japan. Another speciality which is only served in summer is matcha-flavoured shaved ice called Akafuku gori, which also has Akafuku mochi inside.

Next, move on to Toushi Island - located behind Toba city - where you can spend the night at a hotel. You will have to travel by boat for 20 minutes from Toba Harbor to get to the island. The population of Toushi Island is about 2,500 and more than half of the people on the island are fishermen. Check into the Toushi Island Suzunami Hot Spring, which costs 16,200 yen per night. Its tatami rooms command a gorgeous view of the harbour and Ise Bay. For dinner, you will be served dishes featuring seafood from Ise Bay. The island has three huge harbours so various types of seafood from Ise Bay can be found in this area. Thus, for dinner, you will get to enjoy items like abalone sashimi and the island’s famous Japanese Spanish mackerel.

On the second day, return by ferry to Toba Harbor and drive south from Toba city to Ago Bay in Shima city. Visit a drop-in day hot spring in front of Ise Bay, called Kochoran. It boasts a fantastic view of the sea. Later, go to Osatsu, a town of female divers. It has the largest number of female divers in Japan, numbering about 100. Forty years ago, there used to be 350 female divers here. To try some seafood caught by these female divers, visit a special hut, where you will get to eat chargrilled seafood such as abalone and Japanese spiny lobster.

After this, drive to Abu Harbor in the south of Shima Peninsula in Mie Prefecture. Ago Bay in Shima city, Mie Prefecture is famous for its pearls. The founder of the well-known pearl brand Mikimoto succeeded in culturing the half-moon pearl in 1893. He expanded his techniques to the world from here. Ago Bay has the best environment for pearl farming, with its calm currents and stable water temperature. Go to a pearl farm and visit the “house of pearls”. Here, you can choose pearl oysters that have been cultured for a year and take a pearl out of the shell. You can make an accessory using this pearl, such as a necklace, brooch or strap. The price of the pearl depends on its size, shape and colour.

Stay at a resort hotel here, which is located opposite the sea. It was renovated two years ago and has a great view of the magnificent mountains of Ise. Soak in its luxurious pearl bath, which uses the natural extract of pearls. It is believed to be good for the skin, making it moist and shiny. For dinner, feast on colourful fusion dishes using various ingredients from Ise-Shima. They include conger pike sashimi with pickled plum sauce, and a choice of 10 dishes for the main course, such as tempura of sea lettuce and scallop; abalone; and foie gras steak seasoned with white miso sauce and balsamic vinegar.

On the third day, the goal is to visit World Heritage Sites. First, drive to the world-famous Kumano Kodo, which goes through the Kii Mountains. Here, the Magose Toge Pass connects Kihoku cho and Owase city in Mie Prefecture. This stone path was built in the Edo era to protect the road from rain water.


Tips:

1) Henba mochi is a must-try item when visiting Ise Shrine

2) Mie Prefecture’s Ago Bay is famous for pearl farming, so do try the pearl bath in the area

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