The Grand Shrine is an architectural phenomenon unlike any other. Traditionally said to be established in 4 BCE as part of Japan’s indigenous religion Shinto, there are over 80,000 Shinto shrines across Japan, and the Grand Shrine of Ise is where the highest of Japan’s gods resides, the goddess Amaterasu. In the spring of 2013, the 62nd Grand Shrine of Ise was completed and marked by the ceremony of Shikinen Sengu.
The Shrine is Reborn
From the aerial perspective, two identical shrines are visible. One is the newly constructed Grand Shrine and the other is the previous shrine, completed exactly 20 years before. To mark this transition, a sacred mirror where Amaterasu is enshrined is carried from the old temple to new where it shall reside, meticulously cared for and protected.
The shrine is not finished with lacquer or paint, and the purity of the wood is celebrated. Time and nature take their natural course and the shrine itself begins its temporary life, serving its purpose until the next cycle is completed. This Tradition of Shikinen Sengu is sometimes referred to as the soul of Japan. Within this process, all the principles of Japanese architecture are found. The shrine is constructed using the ancient techniques of Yayoi Period carpentry.
The Japanese Cypress trees are chosen hundreds of years in advance and each process of removing , transporting, and crafting each piece is as much a tradition in itself as the whole.
The carpenters of the Shrine are highly skilled, trained masters of their work. Something that is well documented in both the shrine and their techniques.
My experience and exposure to this piece of Japan will forever be a highlight of my life. The craft and beauty of the Ise Shrine is celebrated and kept alive through this tradition that embraces the natural life and death of architecture. Thanks for reading and I am happy to share!