These shrines are rebuilt every 20 years, in accordance with Shinto tradition. To begin a new generational cycle, exact replicas of the previous halls are erected with new wood, using the same centuries-old methods, on adjacent sites. The old buildings are then dismantled. The main halls you see now—the 62nd set—were completed in 2013 at an estimated cost of more than ¥5.5 billion. For the Japanese, importance is found in the form of the buildings; the vintage of
the materials is of little concern. You cannot enter any of the buildings, but the tantalizing glimpses of the main halls that you catch while walking the grounds add to the mystique of the site. Both Grand Shrines exhibit a natural harmony that the more-contrived buildings in later Japanese architecture do not. If you are pressed for time, head for the more impressive Naiku first.
Deep in a park of ancient Japanese cedars, Geku, dating from AD 477, is dedicated to Toyouke O-kami, goddess of agriculture. Its buildings are simple, predating the influx of 6th-century Chinese and Korean influence. It's made from unpainted hinoki (cypress), with a closely cropped thatched roof. You can see very little of the exterior of Geku—only its roof and glimpses of its walls—and none of the interior. Four fences surround the shrine, and only the Imperial Family and their envoys may enter. Geku is a five-minute walk southwest of Ise-Shi Station or a 10-minute walk west of Uji-Yamada Station.
Ise, Mie-ken, Japan