Repeated revivals breathe new life into Ise

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Oharaimachi street, which is located beside the Naiku section of Ise Jingu shrine, is crowded with visitors every day.

By Yoshiaki Hotaka / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterThe saying “on life’s stage, always be prepared for the future” is a warning to people who are puffed up with pride and an encouragement to those who are experiencing hardship.

These wise words probably mean that we can’t achieve anything greater if we’re satisfied with our current success, and that we can stand tall amid any kind of hardship if we regard it as a valuable test.

Beginning with Japan’s first general election in 1890, Yukio Ozaki was elected to the Diet 25 times in a row. He served in the House of Representatives for 63 years until 1953.

Ozaki’s pen name was Gakudo. He wrote the saying “on life’s stage ...” with his shaky hand holding an ink brush, although he was already in his twilight years at age 94.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Visitors walk in the Geku section of Ise Jingu shrine, where worshipers feel a holy atmosphere due to the reverent mood.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

His calligraphy is now exhibited in the Parliamentary Museum, which stands in front of the Diet Building.

Ozaki was dubbed “the father of parliamentary government” and “a god of constitutional politics” in Japan. This is not only because he was elected to the Diet so many times and served as a lower house member for so long; it is also because Ozaki always confronted the forces that slighted the Diet, such as factions that originated in feudal clans before the Meiji Restoration and the military.

Ozaki could do this because he had a strong political foothold, from which voters sent him to the lower house however harsh the oppression he endured.

His constituency was in the south of Mie Prefecture, the central part of which is today’s city of Ise.

His father was assigned there as a bureaucrat, so in his boyhood, Ozaki studied at Toyomiyazaki Bunko, a school with close ties to Ise Jingu shrine. The school gave instruction on subjects which were new in those years, such as English.

Ozaki learned during his school days about the ideas of freedom and democracy, and was deeply impressed. In Ise, Ozaki became aware of politics.

Today the Ozaki Gakudo Memorial House stands as if watching lines of cherry trees beside the Miyagawa river, which flows through the city.

“People in Ise were proud of Ozaki, who demonstrated his ideal of politics toward people all over the nation. Everyone supported him without pay, thinking that they must not make him lose in elections,” said Kenzo Okumoto, 69, director of the memorial house.

In the early years of the Showa period, Ozaki’s political ally Tsuyoshi Inukai was assassinated in the May 15 incident. Soon later, he lost his wife to disease.

Ozaki himself developed an ailment and became bedridden. Sunk into depression, he was struck by the wise words “on life’s stage ...,” like a message from heaven into his brain.

Until then, Ozaki had felt helpless due to the rise of the military. But he then began regaining his fighting spirit.

Then in his mid-70s, Ozaki recovered from the depths of despair with the words of wisdom as the first step to his revival.

Life returns to street

Ise, Mie Prefecture, is the home of Ise Jingu shrine. Just outside the south exit of Iseshi Station, which accommodates JR and Kintetsu train lines, is the approach leading to the Geku section of the shrine, which is also known as Toyouke Daijingu shrine.

Miyagawa river flows about two kilometers west of the Geku section. Along the river, there is a river-crossing point called Yanagi no Watashi. In the past, people who were going to worship at Ise Jingu shrine crossed the river on boats to reach the eastern shore, which is the gateway to holy sites of the shrine.

It is the custom for worshipers to first offer prayers at the Geku section and then head for the Naiku section, which is also known as Kotai Jingu shrine.

As the distance between the Geku and Naiku sections is about five kilometers, taking a bus or a taxi is recommended for today’s worshipers.

From a torii gate over Ujibashi bridge, which is the entrance to the Naiku section, a stone-paved street lies along Isuzu River. About 800 meters long, the street is called Oharaimachi.

There are long lines of souvenir shops and restaurants in traditional-style buildings. In the central part of the street is the famous sweet shop Akafuku Honten, and on the opposite side is a theme park-like space called Okage Yokocho.

Oharaimachi street was actually close to disappearing at one point because of the proliferation of the use of cars. Worshipers got in and out of tourist buses in front of Ujibashi bridge, and thus did not enter the street, which lacked any remarkable features at the time.

However, ahead of a ritual called Shikinen Sengu in 1993, owners of the local stores and administrative authorities set their minds on making Oharaimachi a success. They got rid of the utility poles on the street and converted the path into a stone-paved one. The appearance of the buildings housing the stores and restaurants were refurbished to match traditional Ise styles.

These measures completely changed the look of the street, and it became a popular tourist spot again.

The main buildings of Ise Jingu shrine, including the enshrining halls of the Geku and Naiku sections, are wholly rebuilt every 20 years in the Shikinen Sengu practice.

The most recent Shikinen Sengu was implemented in 2013, and the ritual is still fresh in minds of Japanese people. In 2013, areas in and around the Geku section were improved.

Tsugumoto Agata, 77, said, “the years of Shikinen Sengu have naturally served as goals for improving the landscapes in townships in Ise.” He was in charge of improving the landscape in Oharaimachi as an official of the city government, and later served as deputy mayor of the city.

Through the Shikinen Sengu rituals, people related to Ise Jingu shrine have carried on its traditions, and at the same time incorporated new trends of the times.

The number of inbound foreign tourists to Japan has been increasing year by year. As leaders of Group of Seven countries visited the Ise and Shima areas when a G-7 summit meeting was held there, an increasing number of foreign tourists also started being seen in Ise.

How will the city respond to this new trend? It will likely be a task of reshaping the township landscapes ahead of the next Shikinen Sengu ritual.


1 hour 40 minute ride on the Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo Station to Nagoya Station. From Nagoya Station, a 1 hour 20 minute ride on the Kintetsu limited express or JR rapid-transit train to Iseshi Station.

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