| Centrip Editorial Board

Ise-Shima Driving to Spectacular Observatories and Photo Spots

The Ise-Shima area attracted worldwide attention during the G7 Ise-Shima Summit in 2016. It is one of Japan's leading resort destinations, with a beautiful coastline and rows of luxury hotels. But it is also home to a special place for many Japanese people, Ise Jingu Shrine.

In the Ise-Shima area, there are three cities with different attractions: Ise, Toba, and Shima. This article introduces a trip to the magic of the Ise-Shima area through two drives, the Ise-Shima Skyline connecting Ise and Toba and the Pearl Road connecting Toba and Shima.

The Starting of the Drive: Ise Jingu Shrine and Okage Yokocho

Ise Jingu is the most prestigious shrine in Japan, with a history of about 2,000 years. The pilgrimage to Ise, called Oise-Mairi, became a social phenomenon during the Edo period (1603-1867). At that time, travel from Edo (Tokyo) to Ise Shrine was on foot, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime event, taking weeks or months to travel to Ise while sightseeing in the surrounding area.

Before we drive, our Ise-Shima trip starts by paying our respects for a safe and enjoyable trip at Ise Jingu Shrine.

Uji Bridge of Ise Jingu Shrine over the Isuzu River
Oharaimachi in front of Ise Jingu Shrine

Ise Jingu has two shrines, the Outer Shrine and the Inner Shrine (technically, Ise Jingu is the collective name for 125 shrines), but if you have to choose one or the other, I recommend the Inner Shrine. The vast precincts have beautiful landscapes, down to the individual trees, leaving visitors with a strong impression of the importance of this shrine.

Two streets, Oharaimachi and Okageyokocho, are around the Inner Shrine. They are both in front of the torii gate. In this area, you can enjoy casual eating while walking and absorbing the same atmosphere as a pilgrim in the Edo period.

Ise-Shima Skyline, Ise to Toba

After visiting the shrine, we head for the entrance to Ise-Shima Skyline. The Ise-Shima Skyline is a 16.3-kilometer toll road connecting Ise and Toba (fee: ¥1,270.) The entrance to the Skyline is near Ise Jingu Shrine and takes less than 5 minutes to reach from the parking lot of the Inner Shrine.

A popular photo spot is just past the summit observatory

After passing through the entrance, there is an uphill slope to the summit observatory and a downhill slope toward Toba. The scenery, especially after the descent, is spectacular. You can see the beautiful coastline and small islands floating in the sea. New scenes await you around every corner.

There are two recommended stops along the Ise-Shima Skyline. The Asama Mountain View Point is at the top of the mountain and Kongoshoji Temple is just before the Asama Mountain View Point.

Asama Mountain View Point

A special seat with a spectacular view all to yourself

The Asama Mountain View Point is located about halfway along the Ise-Shima Skyline. There are walking paths around the observatory, and benches placed in various places with spectacular views of Ise Bay. It is a photogenic spot, and the red retro post box and footbath are popular.

The famous postbox in the sky
You can also take a footbath while admiring the view

Kongoshoji Temple

Kongoshoji Temple, located near the Asama Mountain View Point is an old temple built in the late 6th century to protect the Ise Shrine from the direction demons would come (Kimon). During the Edo period (1603-1867), pilgrims visited it along with Ise Jingu Shrine.

A arched bridge over the lotus pond
The gate on the road leading to the inner sanctuary

There is a beautiful garden with a red bridge over a lotus pond. The way to the inner sanctuary has 5-6 meter wooden pagodas on each side. Fascinating to see for the first time.

Pearl Road from Toba to Shima

After exiting the Ise-Shima Skyline, head for another driveway, Pearl Road. The distance from the exit of the Ise-Shima Skyline to the Aso-no-Ura Bridge at the entrance of Pearl Road is a 10 km straight road. There are popular spots along this stretch, such as Toba Aquarium and Mikimoto Pearl Island, so stop by during the drive if you are interested.

Baikal seal, a famous animal at Toba Aquarium
Mikimoto Pearl Island

The Pearl Road is a 23.8-kilometer driveway connecting Toba and Shima, and the route weaves through the intricate rias coastline, making it a must for driving enthusiasts. It is also free of charge.

Aso-no-Ura Bridge

Aso-no-Ura Bridge at the start of Pearl Road

At the start of Pearl Road, there is a beautiful white bridge between the sky and the sea. Floating in the sea in the foreground are rafts used to cultivate oysters, a specialty of this area. Around the Aso-no-Ura Bridge, there are many oyster restaurants where visitors can eat oysters for ¥2,000 to ¥3,000 per person during the fall and winter when oysters are in season. Another delicious oyster, called Iwagaki, is available in the summer.

Toba Observatory

There are several observatories on Pearl Road, but the Toba Observation Deck has the best view, located on a hill 163 meters above sea level.

Toba Observation Deck, a small pavilion, stands on the hill overlooking the entire bay

Toba Observatory is the best spot to watch the sunrise, and under the right conditions, you can see Mt. Fuji, hundreds of kilometers away. Deep greenery lies ahead, with an intricate rias coastline beyond it, and the horizon stretches the further out you go. The breeze blowing from the ocean is also pleasant.

The restaurant at the observatory
Pearl Road stretches far beyond the observatory

The restaurant at the observatory sells original burgers made from local ingredients.

Omoshiro (fun) Observatory - Ousatsu - Matoya Bay Bridge

Further on is the Omoshiro Observatory, recently renovated, with new restrooms and other facilities. Lush greenery sits on both sides, making for a pleasant drive. However, many wild animals are about, so drive with caution.

Omoshiro Observatory, newly renovated
A pleasant drive

If you come to Toba, get off Pearl Road and meet the ama divers. If you go along the coastline, you will arrive at Ousatsu, where you can eat seafood and interact with ama divers.

Ousatsu is a town of ama divers' culture
Ama divers cooking right in front of you

Back on Pearl Road, a little further on, you will see a red bridge. Cross the bridge, and the drive on Pearl Road will soon end. There is also an observatory before the bridge where you can take pictures of the coastline and the red arched iron bridge.

Matoya Bay Bridge with its eye-catching red iron bridge

Yokoyama Observatory

After getting off Pearl Road, the next destination, Yokoyama Observatory, is 7 to 8 kilometers away, but the road is narrow. Please drive carefully, and use the car's navigation system.

Yokoyama Observation Deck has an overwhelmingly spectacular view

Yokoyama Observatory is a must-visit place for anyone visiting the Ise-Shima area. It has a star in the Michelin Green Guide Japon. Located 140 meters above sea level, the observatory commands a panoramic view of Ago Bay with its 60 islands. It is an unforgettable sight.

A wooden ramp leads from the parking lot to the observatory, making it easily accessible. A café, Mirador Shima, is also at the observatory, selling sandwiches, soft-serve ice cream, and other snacks.

Kagashima España Cruise

After enjoying the spectacular view from the Yokoyama Observatory, let's venture out to Ago Bay, which you have been watching from the observatory.

Esperanza cruise boat

First, we will cross the bridge to Kashiko Island.

Kashiko is the largest island in Ago Bay and has been the center of tourism in Shima since the Shima Kanko Hotel opened in 1951. For a casual tour of Ago Bay from Kashiko Island, board the Esperanza, a cruise ship modeled after a galleon from the 16th century Age of Discovery. It takes 50 minutes to complete the round trip around Ago Bay. (The Esperanza costs ¥1,700 for adults (junior high school students and older) and ¥900 for children.)

Ago Bay as seen from Esperanza
Demonstration of pearl production

The ship is a three-story structure, and a portion of the space on the second floor is for reserved seating for an additional fee (a ¥400 per person additional fee.) The ship sails on inland waters with calm waves, so you will hardly feel any turbulence. Head up to the third floor and enjoy the sea breeze.

Shima Mediterranean Sea Village

During the cruise on the Esperanza, you'll have a view of the many luxury hotels and unique facilities surrounding Ago Bay. The most eye-catching of these is the orange-roofed Shima Mediterranean Sea Village.

Shima Mediterranean Village, a replica of a Mediterranean town

Shima Mediterranean Village is a resort hotel that recreates a Mediterranean townscape. The contrast of the blue sky, white walls, and colorful bricks against the blue sea of Ago Bay is gorgeous. The grounds have many photogenic spots.

So many different areas for you to explore
Ago Bay as seen from Shima Mediterranean Village

Although the facility is for overnight guests, there is a day trip admission fee of ¥500 for adults (junior high school students and older). In addition to the restaurant and café, there are also a variety of hands-on activities such as cruising and coaster making using mosaic tiles.

Enjoy VISON, a hot new spot

The last stop is VISON, a hot spot that opened in July 2021. If you are traveling from the Shima area and take the Ise Expressway from the Ise IC, you can access VISON using the Taki VISON Smart IC (only for vehicles equipped with ETC).

VISON HOTELS with its staircase-shaped building

VISON is a 54-hectare complex with a market selling local vegetables and seafood, restaurants, hotels, and other facilities. The hotel has a distinctive staircase-shaped building that takes advantage of the mountain slope.

Panoramic view of VISON from the top of the escalator
Hotel front desk reflected in the water

VISON also has a hot spring facility called Honzo Yu that uses medicinal herbs for hotel guests. Rest at the hotel and relieve the fatigue accumulated from the drive to Ise-Shima.

Wrap-up

This driving tour covers three scenic overlooks and photo spots in the Ise-Shima area, using the Ise-Shima Skyline and Pearl Road. You can complete the course in this article in one day, but there are many more sightseeing spots and attractive accommodations in the Ise-Shima area. If you have a few days to spare, visit Ise-Shima for a fantastic holiday experience in Japan.

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