The Ancient Culture and Natural Wonders of Ise-Shima National Park

Nature and Culture Ingrained in Daily Life

Ago Bay

Situated in central-eastern Mie Prefecture, Ise-Shima National Park is a coastal park which encompasses the Shima Peninsula and surrounding lands and waters. The easiest way to enter he park is from Iseshi station. Getting there from Osaka only takes around ninety minutes on the Kintetsu limited express from JR Osaka-Namba station. It takes the same time from Nagoya on the Kintetsu-Nagoya line, while Kyoto is about two hours away. With easy access, stunning mountain and ocean vistas, and local culture steeped in an astonishing 1300 years of history, Ise-Shima National Park is an irresistible destination.

There are two highlights in particular. On the cultural front, there is the sacred Shinto land surrounding Ise Jingu (Ise Shrine), where countless of worshippers have journeyed since the 7th century until now. The second is the natural scenery of Ise-Shima’s scenic coastal islands and labyrinthine “ria” – ancient submerged river valleys. From the 7th to 12th centuries, the region provided fish and shellfish to the imperial court. Even today the area is famous for its supply of fresh seafood to Ise Jingu.

Ise-Shima National Park Map
1. “Ama” diving experience
2. Fishing boat expedition
3. Sea kayaking

Deep Impressions of “Ama” Divers in the Island Setting of a Novel

“Ama” Divers

If you make the trip to Ise-Shima, you must get an up-close look at Japan’s female divers known as “ama”. Following traditions passed down a millennium, ama dive without the use of breathing apparatus to collect abalone, shellfish, lobster and other seafood. Ama are always careful not to overfish the waters, using conventional tools to measure the growth of their catch, ensuring the protection of the ocean’s natural resources.

Between 1000 and 2000 ama fish waters across Japan from Tohoku to Kyushu, with approximately 750 residing in Ise-Shima alone. In 2017, the harvesting techniques of ama were officially designated an important folk cultural property.

Ama female divers in Mie
“Ama” diving experience

In Ise-Shima there are year-round tours offering the rare chance to observe and interact with ama.

One such tour takes place on the island of Kamishima (literally “God Island”), which served as the setting for famed author Yukio Mishima’s novel “Sound of the Waves”. In the morning, you’ll catch a modern liner at Toba City’s Satahama pier out to Kamishima where you’ll have a delicious seafood lunch at a popular local eatery alongside real ama. An interpreter will always be on hand to let you speak to ama directly so you can learn more about their fascinating lives. After lunch, you’ll head into the shallows to get an up-close look at the ama divers’ amazing skills.

A fresh seafood barbecue lunch at a hut

Before supper at the local inn where you’ll stay, there’s time to explore Kamishima island on foot. With a circumference of 4km (2.5 mi), it only takes about 90 minutes to walk the promenade encircling the island. You can visit Yatsushiro-jinja shrine which is said to deify the island’s sea god. The local lighthouse and limestone rock formations make for good selfie spots.

Kamishima's limestone rock formations
Kamishima’s limestone rock formations

Dive in the shallows with real “ama”

[Tour Period] May to October (2017 July 13,20, 27. August 3, 17, 24 and 31)

[Meeting Point] Toba Marine Terminal (Satahama Pier.10 minutes on foot from JR/Kintetsu Toba station)

[Duration] Approximately 1 night and 2 days (10:30 departure from Toba Marine Terminal. Tour ends after breakfast the following day)

[Price] ¥29,800 (Including lodging and 3 meals)

Head Out to Sea with Real Fishermen

Ise Bay

The coastal region of Ise-Shima features both calm inlets and open ocean waters, providing habitats for a wide variety of fish. The egress to the ocean is known as a spawning ground for delicacies such as tiger puffer fish and red sea bream. In the flourishing fishing grounds of Ise-Shima, fisherman employ rods, nets and other means to bring in their bounty.

Fishing With Japanese Fisherman

You can even board a small fishing vessel go out on a real expedition! You’ll be accompanied by an English speaking guide and get tips from these lifelong men of the sea. Total beginners and children can get a feel for real fishing, too. And best of all, the day’s catch will be prepared as a delicious meal once you’re back on land.

Fisherman's store

Aquaculture (fish farming) is successful in the calmer waters of Ise-Shima’s inner bay areas. At Toba Bay and Matoya Bay, you can get your fill of the freshest oysters imaginable. The oyster haul takes place from November to March, so don’t miss the excitement. The winter-spring period also brings in supplies of the nori and wakame that you often enjoy in your sushi rolls and miso soup.

Fishing Village Culinary Walking Tour

Why not take in coastal views and local cuisine on a culinary walking tour through a real fishing village? Wholesalers peddle fresh abalone and sea cucumber while fishermen go about their daily preparations. Witnessing and interacting with people whose lives are completely integrated with the sea makes a deep impression.

Fishing With Japanese Fisherman

[Tour Period] Every Wednesday, late April – December (excluding August 13-15 and December 30)

[Meeting Point] Kaito Yumin Club Office (3 minutes on foot from JR/Kintetsu Toba station)

[Duration] Approximately 3.5 hours

[Price] ¥15,000

Fishing Village Culinary Walking Tour

[Tour Period] Year round

[Duration] Approximately 1.5 hours

[Price] ¥4,200

Absorbing the Beauty of Ago Bay by Kayak

Ago Bay

Ago Bay’s Kashiko Island – which hosted the 42nd G7 Summit in 2016 – and some 60 other islands are part of a stunningly beautiful, labyrinthine coastal region imbued with greens and blues.

To get to Ago Bay in the southern district of Ise-Shima National Park, the closest station is Kashikojima station on the Kintetsu Yamada line, just under 50 minutes from Iseshi station. From there, wander down to Ago Bay as you take in the local scenery. Sea kayaking among the myriad large and small islands on the calm waters of Ago bay is the best way to appreciate Ise-Shima’s stunning natural beauty. You’ll take part in a training session before you head out, meaning novices have no worries. There are optional plans where you can get off and explore uninhabited islands.

Ago Bay Sea Kayak Touring

[Tour Period] Year round

[Getting There] Shima Nature School. From Kintetsu Toba station take the Kintetsu Shima limited express approximately 24 minutes to Ugata station (two stops before Kashikojima station) followed by a 20-minute walk

[Price] 1.5-hour course ¥3,000, 3-hour course ¥4,500

Toba Bay Sea Kayak Touring

For a completely different way to experience Ise-Shima, join a night kayaking tour. As you float along in a transparent boat, marvel at the magical sight of sea fireflies below the surface and the stars above.

sea fireflies

Under the Starry-Night Kayak Tour

[Tour Period] Every Friday-Sunday, June – early September

[Duration] Approximately 1.5 hours

[Price] ¥10,000