According to Japanese legend, around 2,000 years ago the divine Yamatohime-no-mikoto, daughter of the Emperor Suinin, set out from Mt. Miwa in modern Nara Prefecture in search of a permanent location to worship the goddess Amaterasu-omikami, wandering for 20 years through the regions of Ohmi and Mino. Her search eventually brought her to Ise, in modern Mie Prefecture, where she is said to have established Naikũ ( the Inner Shrine) after hearing the voice of Amaterasu Omikami saying that she wanted to live forever in the richly abundant area of Ise, near the mountains and the sea. Prior to Yamatohime-no-mikoto's journey, Amaterasu-omikami had been worshiped at the Imperial residence in Yamato, then briefly at a temporary location in the eastern Nara basin.
Officially known simply as Jingū or "The Shrine," Ise Jingū is in fact a shrine complex composed of over one hundred individual shrines, divided into two main parts. Gekū (外宮), or the Outer Shrine, is located in the town of Yamada and dedicated to the deity Toyouke no ōmikami, the deity responsible for sacred offerings of food to Amaterasu, while Naikū (内宮), or the Inner Shrine, is located in the town of Uji and dedicated to Amaterasu ōmikami. The two are located some six kilometers apart, joined by a pilgrimage road that passes through the old entertainment district of Furuichi. The High Priest or Priestess of the Ise Shrine must come from the Japanese Imperial Family, and watches over the Shrine.
According to the official chronology, the shrines were originally constructed in the year 4 BC, but most historians date them from several hundred years later, with 690 AD widely considered the date when the shrines were first built in their current form. Legends say that Naikū was established by Yamatohime-no-mikoto. The shrines are mentioned in the annals of the Kojiki and Nihonshoki (dating from 712 and 720, respectively).
The architectural style of the Ise shrine is known as Shinmeizukuri (神明造) and may not be used in the construction of any other shrine. The old shrines are dismantled and new ones built to exacting specifications every 20 years at exorbitant expense, so that the buildings will be forever new and forever ancient and original. The present buildings, dating from 1993, are the 61st iteration to date and are scheduled for rebuilding in 2013.
Gagaku Court dance
Site of the older shrine, now rebuilt behind the wooden fence to the right
Modern worshippers cluster at the rebuilt 1993 shrine (Note security guard at left reminding me photos are strictly forbidden within the shrine precincts! Oops.)