Travelling solo on a train in a land where I hardly speak the language -- that's exactly the kind of travel that I love.
On this last business trip to Osaka, I stayed an extra day so I could do just that, meander off on my own, on a short day trip, out of the comfort zone of the city.
Thanks to Hyperdia, that fount of information on the Japanese train system, I was armed with all the details on trains, stations and timetables that I needed for this day trip to Ise-jingu, the most important Shinto shrine in Japan and just a two hour train ride away from Osaka.
My journey started very early. I wasn't sure how easy it would be to navigate my way around Namba station -- a vast underground maze where it would be so easy to get lost in.
I took a cab from the hotel and asked the driver to take me to the Kintetsu Station in Namba and was surprised that he dropped me off in this building, a block away from the main station.
But it was a pleasant surprise! The Kintetsu and Hanshin train lines share this easy to get to entrance. No need to enter busy Namba station at all!
Because Ise-jingu is a major destination for tourists, directions and instructions were well marked, in both Japanese and English.
Because it is a Limited Express train, it is reserved seating all throughout and costs 3,120 yen for a one way ticket.
In my excitement, I got to the station way too early for my planned 7:05 a.m train and thus, ended up making it in time for the first trip at 6:05.
The platform is just below the ticket station. I had barely gotten down when the train pulled in, making me miss out on one of my favourite train rituals in Japan -- buying the eki-ben or the special bento box sold chiefly in train stations. I would have no breakfast on the train.
Zannen desu ne!
From my window seat, I looked out on bucolic and tranquil scenes of rural Japan -- a far cry from skyscrapers and concrete roads. This is why I always try to squeeze in an out-of-town day trip every time I am in Osaka or Tokyo. And thanks to the fast and efficient Japanese train system, I am able to see some of the beautiful countryside whenever I can.
Before long, the train had stopped and dislodged us at Iseshi, the station closest to Geku, the outer shrine of Ise-jingu. This grand Shinto shrine is composed of two shrines -- Geku is the Outer Shrine and the more important shrine is Naiku, or the Inner Shrine.
From the station platform, signs point travellers in the direction of the exit towards Ise-jingu or Geku.
The Kintetsu Limited Express stops at the platform designated for Kintetsu trains but the exit for Geku is closest to the JR trains exit.
It was not even 8:00 a.m. when I exited Iseshi Station. Again, I was glad to note that there were prominent signs pointing to Ise-jingu. Dear reader ... trust me. It is impossible to get lost if you travel by train to Ise-jingu.
The outer shrine or Geku is a mere 500 meters from Iseshi Station. This huge signboard is hard to miss.
There is also a large map of Ise City, showing where you are in relation to Geku, Naiku and other places of interest.
A large unpainted torii marks the exit to the station and leads you to the street that will take you to Geku. The torii is made of cedar and I actually got a whiff of the fragrant wood as I passed by.
Since it was early, the souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes on the street leading to Ise-jingu were still closed.
There were just a few of us at this hour at the shrine. The small bridge you see on the left side marks the entrance to Geku. There is no payment or entrance fee to the shrine. I even got a free map in english when I stopped at the small guardhouse.
After my visit to Geku, it was time to head to Naiku. The Inner Shrine is 3.5 kilometres away and there is a bus that you can take from right across Geku. Again, the destination is clearly marked. There were quite a few people waiting in line for the bus.
After a 20 minute ride through Ise City, the bus made its final stop at Naiku, right across the entrance to the shrine. Since this was much later in the morning, more tourists and pilgrims had arrived. The temperature had also shifted from an early morning cool to a blistering and humid mid-day heat.
After my visit to Naiku and lunch (more about that in a later post), it was time to head back to Iseshi station where I planned to catch the 12:52 train back to Osaka. To take the bus back to the station, I bought my tickets first from the shop directly across the bus stop.
Buses going around Ise City come around every 15 or 20 minutes so I didn't have to wait long before my bus bound for the train station arrived.
I took my seat right by the exit and dropped my ticket in the payment slot.
I got back to Iseshi Station with plenty of time to spare. However, instead of being able to buy a straight ticket to Osaka Namba station where I had gotten on earlier this day, I had to make a transfer at Osaka Uehommachi and take the regular Kintetsu tram to Namba.
From Osaka Uehommachi, it was one level down to the platform for the Kintetsu Nara Line which dropped me off at Namba. I was back in my hotel before 3 p.m.
Thanks to the efficient train system and the many directional signs in English along the way ...
going solo to Ise-jingu was easy and worry free!