This past Saturday (the 16th) was our first wedding anniversary, but since Takeshi would be working that day, we decided to do something this past Thursday instead. We had been thinking all of kinds of things and places to go to, but the first choices we had put on the table, ended either being too expensive or too time-consuming. We wanted to go to Kobe for the first time, but it would mean way too much time spent driving there and driving back (poor Takeshi), and not enough time left for wandering around town and such. So we let that one go.
In the end we decided to travel to the 'Meoto Iwa' site in Futami, in Mie. Then we would travel to the Naikū Shrine, which is a part of the "Ise Shine". These two locations were relatively close to each other, in driving time. It probably only took about 30 mins. to drive to the Meoto Iwa, and then about 45 mins. from there, to Ise. In the end, we were very glad we had chosen these two places to visit on our "anniversary-celebration" day, especially the Meoto Iwa, since it gave the day, and our first anniversary, much more meaning, than just going somewhere fun. We woke up at around 6am and left the apartment and rode our bikes to pick up our rental car for the day, at about 8am. Then we sped off down the road towards Futami, after stopping at a conbini to buy some onigiri and drinks. Takeshi's favorite conbini onigiri are the ones with spicy salmon roe in them, and he has turned me onto them as well! I still enjoy my tuna/shrimp with mayo onigiri.
We finally reached our first destination, driving through a few teeny tiny streets of a small neighborhood. On the other side of this residential area was the ocean! There was a small parking lot for us to go to, and we got out and made our way towards the site's opening, marked by the usual torii gate. It was so windy that day and very sunny! I was worried about all of my photos being way too overexposed, but I managed. We thought that there might not be anybody else there with us, almost, but we ended up seeing a good number of people there already, so early in the morning! Never underestimate the "insanely-early-rising" Japanese. Wow. Especially the elderly! I've been around town in the past, at some ungodly hours of the morning (in my 'night-owl' opinion), and I will always see elderly people up and about, riding bikes, gardening, and in the rice fields. Oops! Digressing, here.
There were 2 shrines there along the raised walkway, against the shoreline. We stopped at both of them! I didn't think we would (I don't know why, we've never done it before), but I suppose that day was a special for us. We stopped at each one and Takeshi brought me up to speed with the proper way to do the prayer business, after throwing 5 or 50 yen coins into the wooden box. I felt very strange doing the hand-prayer clasping move, and neither of us are very spiritual at all, and I doubted there was a goddess (at this site specifically) to pray to - so I treated each shrine as a wishing well. I made a wish to be able to have a happy marriage, and such. There were two places where we decided to stop and wait for someone to grab and ask politely to take our photo, with the Meoto Iwa in the background. One spot had another, smaller torii gate, which if you stood in front of it, the rock formations were neatly framed within it. How innovative. :) Several stone frog statues were scattered along the walkway, all of them different sizes, and all them different from each other. Frogs are known to be viewed as good luck in many cultures, and the Japanese also must view them this way. I personally like frogs a lot and enjoyed taking photos of them all along the way.
There were indeed, other couples there wandering the walkway, who were of all ages. For the two sets of couples who took our photo, we in exchange, to their photos for them as well. I thought this was amusing, as I figured that this place will always have couples helping each other out with the other one's photo with the Meoto Iwa. A photo for a photo in return! I couldn't help myself and bought a small charm for 500yen, with the image of the Meoto Iwa stitched into the backside of it. All in all, we felt very good about going to that site, for marital good luck, as it were.
The second part of our day - the Naikū Shrine at Ise! By the time we arrived there it was about 10:00-ish. I had always wanted to go to the famous "Ise Shrine", since I had been hearing about it, and having to study it in Art History classes, since freshman year of college. So I was really jazzed to see the place in person, with a little bit of art-history-geekiness coming out in me. We made it to the area near the shrine's entrance, and parked in a local garage. Evidently they were in the process of building a new bridge, across a river which connected to the shrine area. We glanced over at the construction work a couple times while walking across the older(?) bridge.
We wandered through the shrine grounds, marveling at the beauty of it all (like in any other Japanese shrine!), and even though there was a good amount of people there that day, we were still able to view everything with relative ease. There were a couple gigantic herds of tour groups roaming the woods, so we pretty scooted ahead faster, whenever we saw them! It was just a really nice time for the two of us to indulge in photography too. That was great. The only weird part of the day was then we were walking past the main traditional-style building (which you could buy more charms at, etc.) - this old Japanese dude came out of practically nowhere and came up to us, to talk. As Japanese people can be with foreigners, this guy was interested in knowing if I spoke any Japanese, where I was from, what we were doing there, and oh hey, let me give you a small history lecture about that building over there. At this point, I can speak a minimal amount of Japanese, but I didn't want to talk to him. Takeshi stood there and made grunts, murmurs, and small exclamations of (fake) interest, while the guy was talking to him about the roof on the building in front of us, and such. I was a little indignant when I vaguely heard the old man ask Takeshi if I could speak Japanese, to which Takeshi said hesitantly, "Eh...sugoi sukoshi" ("Umm...very, very little") Well I know enough Japanese now, and know that if you put "sugoi" in with a description like that - I took that as, meaning that I know next to nothing. Which made me puff out my chest a little in annoyance! But afterwards (after we had finally ripped ourselves away from this dude), I asked Takeshi about his statement - Takeshi explained, "Yeah, I know you know more Japanese than that, but if I had said, "Oh she knows some Japanese", then he would have started to ask you questions. So I just said, no, so that he'd leave you alone." Oooohh. Such a nice hubby. :) Who knows what to say, so we don't have to talk to creepy old Japanese men for hours and hours.
A unique feature of this shrine site was the fact that they seemed to have a large "family" of roosters and hens wandering around - everywhere. The birds seemed to have clustered mostly around an area of the site where we found a large pond of koi. I thought the roosters would be kind of hostile, but I accidently almost stepped on one of them, and I didn't get pummeled. After that, I stood a few centimeters away from it, to take photos of the koi in front of me, and the bird still seemed unafraid. They almost reminded me of pigeons in the big cities, which become accustomed to humans walking around all the time. But I was still thinking I'd see some brat kid come up to one of them and try to grab it - then there would be carnage, I'm sure. Seeing a rooster make off with a pinky finger in its beak, or something.
We left the shrine after a good many hours, and decided to take a short trip through 'Okage Yokochō'. This is a strip of stores in Ise that we have been too about 3 times now, but it was only a minute's walk away from where we were. We stopped at a small restaurant there and got soba for lunch. We shortly left that area, and headed back to Suzuka. Just to kill some time, and get some more money's worth out of our rental car for the day, we visited the Mie Art Museum in the city of Tsu. It was a neat little museum - totally different from the grand, cathedral-like museums of Washington D.C., which I am used to. We thought that there was an exhibit going one, of one man's art, and then the rest of the museum was mixed. It ended up that the museum was so small that about 90% of the whole building was showcasing that one artist's work. It was like he bought up the museum just for his art, for a time! While we were there we bumped into Takeshi's friend Kato-san, who was on a college field trip there! It's a small world, I tell ya'.
After the museum visit, we decided to get back to Suzuka and drop the car off at the rental business. We ended up eating yakiniku for dinner! :) You can never go wrong with yakiniku. We ate at one of the large yakiniku establishments in town called "Misaki Ya". We were seated at a table on the lower level of the restaurant - and guess what little decoration we had at our particular table? A small frog statue. Pure coincidence - but it gave a small bit of symmetry to the day - coming full circle. It was a lovely day, and we had a lovely time!