Mie Prefecture’s tagline is “Once in your lifetime“. I thought one’s experience with Mie couldn’t be more aptly described and summarized in that one very line.
As you already know, Ise Jingu is Japan’s most sacred shrine since ancient time and it was every Japanese’s wish to make a pilgrimage to at least once in their life time. Before I visited Mie Prefecture, all I knew about Mie was Ise Jingu and Matsusaka beef. In fact that was exactly what I went for the first time I stepped foot on this beautiful land tucked in between Osaka and Nagoya. And the first time left me hooked forever. These two attractions alone are enough to justify a once-in-your-lifetime visit to Mie.
Last summer 2019, I embarked on a 4-day journey to explore just Mie Prefecture alone, and trust me, there’s so much to do you will wish you have more time!
Read my past entries on Mie Prefecture here.
This time around, let me bring you back to the amazing Ise-Shima region of Mie to experience a slower, more relaxing healing journey through untouched nature, which is what many of us long for the most in this challenging time.
HOW TO GET THERE
Shimakaze Scenic Train
I have featured this luxurious themed-train in my previous article before, but here’s a memory refresher: Shimakaze Limited Express is a premium train bound for Ise-Shima running from Kyoto, Osaka and Nagoya by Kintetsu Railway. Do note that Kintetsu runs most of the lines in Mie prefecture so it would be wise to get a Kintetsu Rail Pass. I have also covered this in my previous article on Kansai here.
The lime-green colored leather seat is so soft and cozy you will wish the train run a little slower and longer. Honest.
This train runs once daily from Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya, and arrives at its last station, Kashikojima.
There are actually quite a bit to explore at Kashikojima Station alone including leisure cruises, lots of great food and Kashikojima’s highlight – Shima Marine Land, so budget your time wisely before you head to your next destination.
Now that we have the logistics sorted out, let’s look at all the exciting things you could do in the Ise-Shima region!
I can’t think of a better family bonding activity than sea kayaking at Ago Bay with Shima Nature School. It may sound like an intense marine sports made for active outdoor enthusiasts, but my experience tells the complete opposite. Even a newbie like me enjoyed it thoroughly!
First thing first. You will need some sunscreen, long sleeve top and pants, and maybe a hat for this as you will be out in the ocean with no shades. In colder weather, bring your wind breaker. A life jacket and water shoes will be provided. You may get slightly wet so if possible, prepare a set of spare clothing to change into just in case.
After a quick demonstration, you are all ready to set off to the sea!
As I have mentioned earlier, many may imagine sea kayaking as a sports reserved for those with boat-sized biceps and bottomless stamina, however, although you may end up getting sore arms at the end of the session, most of the time you feel nothing but a sense of serenity and relaxation. Technically you are out in the ocean, but Ago Bay’s water is so incredibly calm that it’s as if you are cruising in a lake. With just very light paddle of the oars and if you are fortunate in getting a little help from the god of wind sending gentle breeze your way, you go sailing smoothly forward effortlessly.
Also, because of how still the water is, small children as young as 3-year-old are welcome to be on board!
If your luck is with you all the way till evening, this sight may lie in wait for you.
One of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever witnessed, was the very day I came here to Ago Bay. It may just be my once-in-a-lifetime kind of luck.
Sightseeing on a bicycle might not cropped up your mind when it comes to traveling in Japan. After all, we are so used to marveling at the speed of shinkansen and the madness of Tokyo’s subway system that we forget sometimes there are other ways to see places, such as on two wheels.
The suburbs like Taki Town in Mie is just the place you should hop on a bicycle… an electric one, if you lack boat-size biceps and bottomless stamina.
Cycling could be pretty addictive, actually. I have done it a few times in other prefectures and I was completely convinced that it is one of the best ways to see the nature. More so if your bike lets you enjoy the scenery fully minus the huff and puff when the location is extra hilly with steep slopes.
Cazacle makes this a dream come true by offering the most kick-ass electric bicycles ever. Be careful as it goes so smooth and fast you feel as if you are on a motorbike!
You can either rent just the bicycle or book a tour with Nishii san, a really lovely lady who brought me to her secret sightseeing spots…
So that we can…
Strike a Cazacle Classic pose together!
But really, riding along village farms seeing the paddy sway as the cool breeze welcomes you is exhilarating.
Here’s another of Nishii san’s secret spot – the Taki Swing. It actually belongs to a local villager made as a play spot for the kids but it has soon become an instagenic spot for travelers to get a cool shot at.
Have a go at it if you are there!
To me, this is the very definition of a once-in-your-lifetime opportunity.
Since my last trip to Mie in 2019, I have been longing to be back sometime soon. When Mie called me to visit again I was thrilled beyond words, but then comes the catch…
“We would like you to experience sky diving…”, said Koyama san, who was coordinating the trip.
“Oh.” I was trying to find a response as polite as possible while containing my shock.
“… and film you jumping off”, continued Koyama san.
And then I only remembered myself saying, “if it’s for Mie, I’ll do it once in this life time.” and before I knew it I was being dragged out of a helicopter door mid-air…
Oh wait, let’s pause there for a moment. Yes, pause it right there: mid-air.
Exactly 10 years ago, I actually turned down a once-in-a-lifetime sponsored sky diving opportunity when I was on a FAM trip to New South Wales, Australia. There was just no way a person like me who climbs onto the Sydney Tower with trembling hands could summon enough courage to get on a Disney roller coaster, let alone jump off an air plane.
But then again, I’ll do anything for Japan. You already know that.
And so the rest is history… of my wind-blown grin and mid-air shrieks archived forever on the internet.
Ise Shima Sky Diving Club is one of the rare places in Japan offering not only affordable sky diving experience, but a second-to-none breathtaking birds eye view of the gift of nature – the Ago Bay and its beautiful 60 tiny islands.
Meet the very important person your life is about to depend entirely on – Rhys, the sky diving instructor from New Zealand with over 25 years of experience jumping off flying vehicles mid air.
Everyone around me was more nervous than me. To be honest, I didn’t feel much anxiety at all, surprisingly, probably because I was already so freaked out my brain didn’t know how to respond anymore. That or I have completely psyched myself into thinking that this is all just a dream and totally unreal.
Rhys is calm, confident and hilarious. After a simple lecture about safety and posture, we took off in a heli and got up 10,000 ft in the sky. He then asked me to get on his lap and buckled me to himself.
“Ready??” he asked.
This was my view at that point of time. I guess it is… breathtaking? Literally? Hahaha.
Honestly, when you are completely strapped to someone with no voluntary movement control, you are left with not many choices. I wasn’t given a chance to say “I am sorry but I changed my mindddddd” before he stood on the edge of the heli, which means that *I* got myself hanging in mid air, 10,000 feet above ground.
“Take a deep breath!” that was his last words to me. I mean, that was what I thought at the moment – the last words I heard before my life went off in a flash was “take a deep breath”.
And he jumped. I mean, *we* jumped.
The filming crew specifically asked for close-up shots on my expression during the jump. I was so worried to have caused the team trouble in case I fainted mid air or totally threw up in Rhys’s face (that’s what his helmet shield is for, by the way. Haha) and that we will have to do take two again.
But then again, I have my utmost respect for him. Not only did he have to make sure of being aware of the environment and concentrating on flying safely, he is also, at the same time, making sure that he got good shots of us, of the view, of pulling the parachute on time, of small-talking with me, of ensuring to bring us both back on ground alive.
How does sky diving feel? Ever since I posted my experience on Instagram, everyone was curiously asking. Possibly because I was the last person in their mind who would do something as crazy as this.
Here’s what I think, recalling the experience.
The photo above was probably taken 5 seconds into the free-fall. I was smiling. Partly for the camera, but mostly because I sincerely felt so, so, so liberated. Sky diving was never like what I imagined it to be. I was prepared to totally just shut my eyes and pray for my life for the 30 seconds of free-fall… but it never happened.
Many people imagine free-falling at 250km/h (that’s almost the speed of Shinkansen!!) from 10,000 feet up in the sky to be scary as hell. But the truth is, you don’t get any of the terrifying “stomach drop” sensation as if all your intestines are going to fall out when you go on a roller coaster.
You feel like… flying. Literally. And you are.
For my experience, I felt like I was cruising in the sky as if I was looking down from the airplane from a screen like a movie and it is all crazy and amazing at the same time.
You get a mild jolt when the parachute opens up, but from then on it’s all precious seconds you wish will last forever. To fly like a free bird. To see the helicopter fly by beneath you (?!?)… To see the world from up above in a way you have never seen before… To go with the wind and let it guide you…
It was surreal. I have seen the Ago Bay from the Yokoyama Observatory deck. It is waaaaaaay more beautiful seen from up above. You get to observe the depth of the crystal clear water, the gradational shades of emerald and azure, the shapes of the islets from different angles…
And before you knew it you have landed at the beach safely. (I really wished it lasted longer, I did.)
And you will want to do it all over again.
Sky diving is truly a once-in-your-lifetime, if not life-changing, experience. I am so glad I said yes to Mie.
Know that your experience will be recorded so you can bring home this ultra precious memory with you, and it will be no doubt one of the most memorable moments in your life.
SPIRITUAL & RELAXING
After reaching great height and experiencing the climax of an unforgettable adventure, of course, it is time to wind down a little and perhaps you will want a quiet retreat just to slowly enjoy the moment. You may want to explore some spiritual spots, or perhaps, just sit back and indulge yourself at a beach-side resort.
This sacred power spot of Japan needs no further introduction. It was my 4th time there and this will also be my 4th time writing about it on this blog.
Just like I have mentioned in the beginning of this article, true to Mie’s tourism theme “Once in Your Lifetime”, this is the very spot every Japanese in ancient time made a life mission to visit. How lucky am I to visit not just once, but 4 times in the comfort of modern technology.
We meet again, the centuries-old tree that is said to bless whoever touch it with longevity. Seeing how often I embrace its divine trunk, I should live to be a vamp, haha.
The real treat of this pilgrimage only starts when you head over to explore Oharai-machi, a buzzling little traditional town lined with shop lots along the old-fashioned streets selling a tantalizing array of street food, traditional craft and souvenirs.
If you make it there, I suggest you make a beeline to queue up for the wonderful Butasute Coroquette. It was so unforgettable it was the very thing I insisted on having on repeat each time I visit Oharai-machi.
I also sampled something new this time at Sangu-Tei, a canteen-style restaurant offering affordable set meals. This is the Sangu-Combo, featuring both the famous tekonezushi, a traditional Ise-style sushi served in a bowl, as well as Ise-udon which texture is fluffier than any other udon in other parts of Japan. More of Ise could be found in my previous article!
Nemu resort is a huge property sits inside the very Ise-Shima National Park where you get to enjoy both the ocean and forest, making it an ideal choice for those looking for a healing retreat.
Located next to a golf course, Nemu Resort is not just for golf-enthusiasts, you can also find lots of other nature activities such as water sports and luxurious cruise.
Within the facility, of course you can also pamper yourself to morning yoga sessions, sit next to the warmth of an open fire at Takibi Cafe and spend hours just stargazing mindlessly.
There are western-style rooms and tatami-style rooms, either way, it is too spacious and wasteful to enjoy alone. So come with your tribe and throw a party!
Nemu Resort is a place you will want to wake up early willingly just to enjoy the breakfast.
Hotspring at Nemu Resort is another highlight you should spend some extra time to fully immerse yourself in. There’s a “pearl bath” that has a milky appearance, filled with the goodness of pearl essence to nourish your whole body! Know that the Shima region is famous for pearl-culturing, and the birth place of world-renowned pearl brand Mikimoto. You can read more about Mikimoto in my previous article.
No trip to Ise-Shima is complete without sampling the gifts from the abundance of Ago Bay – fresh, luxurious seafood.
Ise Shima Seafood
This place is called “Daikazoku – Umi no Shokudo“, literally “Big family – the cafeteria of the sea”. This is the place to go if you want a delightful pescatarian feast.
Presented before you is the freshest daily catch from the nearby ocean, including grilled shellfish, fish sashimi, shrimps and many more cooked in a variety of different flavors and methods.
The ebifry (fried shrimp) is absolutely gigantic in size!
Don’t let the simplicity fool you. This is foil-grilled “sawara”, Japanese Spanish Mackerel, is so insanely flavorful it left me wanting for more.
Of course, since this is your once-in-a-lifetime journey to Mie, why stop at Ise-Shima? Matsusaka is easily accessible and you will find yourself sighing over one of the best beef you will ever have.
Don’t have enough time to venture out to other cities? No worries! Right in Shima city, you can enjoy just the same branded wagyu right at Chodaya Yakiniku restaurant.
Chodaya offers Matsusaka Wagyu from its very own farm, and the restaurant is spacious and equipped with private rooms too, making it an ideal dining choice for family or large group of guests.
Hinakaya, Michelin-star restaurant in Taki Town
Mie is full of secret surprises, with this one being one of the best hidden.
Hinakaya (鄙茅) bagged itself one star with its authentic Kaiseki-style cuisine. Apart from being really, really out of the way, Hinakaya also presents itself in many unexpected ways – you can observe monumental efforts by the team in creating a wholesome experience that engages with one’s five senses.
First of all, the building itself is massive – not only massive, but also so traditional you would have thought you time-slipped a few eras back.
From the thatched roof to the engawa (veranda) overlooking crystal clear Miya River, to all things traditional such as the heavy use of wood texture and of course, the warmth of irori (harth) that provides instant comfort, it is truly an experience hard to be replicated elsewhere.
The cuisine is of course, spectacular to say the least.
Although it probably requires some great navigation skill for one to make their way there, do add this in your list for a once-in-a-life time dining experience at Hinakaya. Also, do make booking in advance as it is reportedly eternally popular with the locals.
Till next time…
Actually, I was in Mie to participate in filming a PR video for the prefecture. Thanks to the amazing team, I think we manage to produce great video content and I can’t wait to share it with you soon once it is ready!
Anyway, this was also my first official travel gig since the whole pandemic started. I am forever grateful for the kind souls in Mie prefecture, the talented people who made this trip a success, and most of all, every single individual – including drivers, coordinators, hotel staff, restaurant staff, shop owners, etc, who made their best effort to ensure a safe and comfortable journey for every traveler, without compromising the quality of service. That’s what I truly admire about Japan.
As you have read, most places I visited in Mie prefecture are mostly tucked in vast nature with minimal crowd and human contact, there are also lots of prevention measures taken at each facilities, and the best of all, I returned home feeling refreshed, energized and more fearless than ever (I mean, I just jumped off a heli door, what else can scare me!).
And all these could be your stories too. ^^
Till next time, Mie!