Geku, the “Outer Shrine” of Ise Jingu

A torii between a gravel place and forest

Today (March 5) we went to 外宮 (Geku, “Outer Shrine”), the second major shrine of Ise Jingu. Geku is dedicated to 豊受大御神 (Toyouke-no-omikami), the goddess responsible for preparing food for Amaterasu-omikami, and of agriculture and food in general. All English sources I’ve seen until now emphasize the general part, but the Japanese around here usually mention the “food for Amaterasu-omikami” first. A dual-language brochure on Ise Jingu which we got on the first day actually switches the emphasis between Japanese and English text. 😉

A torii between a gravel place and forest

Sadly, the rain put a damper on my hopes of getting good photos, but on the plus side it supported the smell of the forest surrounding the shrine. I really love the smell of forest and wet earth.

A torii and fence made of weathered wood, a shrine building behind them with moss on the roof

Like the ones at Naiku, the shrine buildings at Geku are reconstructed every 20 years in a ritual called 遷宮 (Sengu). However, thanks to the different layout without stairs in front of the main shrine, we could walk directly by the still standing old buildings. If you compare the images above and below, you can see how the wood changes over time.

A torii in a wooden fence provides access to a shrine building in the back, many people with umbrellas

Also like Naiku, photography behind the entrance to the inner shrine area was prohibited, but once again the layout is similar. A low fence separates the publicly accessible area from another square, with a gate that people can approach (but not cross) to pray. The inner sanctuary is surrounded by another wooden fence, but at Geku it is lower than at Naiku and has some gaps, so you can actually catch a glimpse of the inner shrine buildings.

Statue of a woman wearing a golden tiara and holding a basket with various foods. Rice bushels sprout from her robe.

The statue above is part of an exhibition we saw in Futami on Monday, and was labeled as Toyouke-no-omikami. Knowing that we’d visit her shrine, I saved the photo for today.

Just next to the shrine is せんぐう館 (Sengu-kan), the Sengu museum. It focuses on the techniques used to construct the shrines at Ise Jingu and how items used there are made. The shrine buildings at Ise Jingu are made from wood, without using even a single nail. It’s quite impressive the see how the necessary parts are made and assembled. Taking photos was prohibited inside the museum, though. Around the time we left the museum, the rain finally stopped.

Afterwards we had some time to walk around town before meeting again for dinner with program staff and volunteers. I saw a bus with a drawing based around the Married Rocks of Futami (center in the photo below, they’re yellow and orange).

Bus with a design showing various types of sea life and the Married Rocks of Futami

In a small alley with food places, some cats were resting in an apparently comfy box.

Three cats in a styrofoam box

And finally: 伊勢市駅 (Ise-shi Station). The way from the station to Geku is really simple: Leave the station, walk through the torii, and then just keep the direction. 😀

View across a street at a torii and Ise-shi Station

8 thoughts on “Geku, the “Outer Shrine” of Ise Jingu

  1. I wonder why they switch it like that? Maybe they think tourists would just wonder why the special meaning is more prominent than the other? Because we are used to it beeing this way around from greece mythology and such?

    1. I’d guess it’s because someone thought it would be easier for non-Japanese to grasp that way, too. I’ll try to get a hold of the professor and ask him. 😉

    2. I asked him today, but didn’t really get an answer. He just explained that the assignment of aspects to Toyouke-no-omikami was a development: Providing food first, and then people started worshiping her as goddess of agriculture in general. I guess that’s a polite way of saying “I don’t know.” 😉

  2. I think it has also something to do with how pantheons are perceived and how the role of the members is seen now. It is always god of sth. And not the god who made this or that. The emphasis on the title rather than the doing seems to be part of the Western concept but also a rather recent one. If you read old Greek sources, they tend to emphasise the doing more than the name, and there are many names used to refer to a certain god, so taking account of their deeds is an easier way to identify them. If we talk about the same today, the notion seems to be shifted towards the name and title.

    1. Well, the thing is that this is not how westerners actuaklly view this, is it? This is what japanese THINK what we better understand or whatever. And that would be interesting to know. Why do the japanese believe we’d rather understand “the goddess of food” than “the goddess that prepared food for Amaterasu”? Personally I’m totally fine with the second description, and I actually prefer it since that way I do learn more about the goddess personality and status in a way…

      1. That is one part if the thing. But if you think about Greek gods and Gods and goddesses of the. Northern mythology, do you think first about their title or about their deed? One easy approach would be to answer the question: who is Hepheistos/ Demeter/ Athena and who is Baldur/ Odin/ Freya? (Without looking it up)
        When writing a text in a foregoing language, you tend to use patterns that prevail in that language, if you have some experience with translation, rather than putting your pattern into the language.
        Although you might be fine with the original concept, the person translating or writing cannot foresee that and is focused on the general approach.

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