The First Gate of Ise Jingu
Ise Jingu (Ise Grand Shrine) is the most holy site in Shintoism. Unlike such places in other religions, it is remarkably simple. Normally these kind of gates at Shinto shrines are painted a striking vermilion, but at Ise Jingu all of the gates and most of the buildings are unpainted. Given the significance of the place for the Japanese religion and it's simplicity, it says a lot about Japanese modesty.
The buildings in Ise Jingu are rebuild every twenty years on two alternating locations according to traditional carpentry techniques. Ensuring these skills are pasted down from generation to generation. The architecture of the shrine predates any Chinese influence, so it gives an idea of the types of buildings that existed in Japan before newer architectural styles came from China.
The reason for our visit to Ise Jingu was to research about any pre-Xavier Christian* or Jewish influences, that some believe over time changed into Shintoism. Given it is one of the oldest (in terms of architecture) what evidence could we find in the design of the buildings and layout of the shrine complex? What got us really motivated to make the day trip out to Ise from Kyoto, was a certificate from Ise Jingu we saw in a shop in Kyoto. That certificate had some symbols on it suggesting there may be a link with Judaism.
*While there are a number of books on pre-Xavier Christianity written in Japanese, not much exists in English on the subject apart from a bilingual book called "Japan's Christian Roots" by Kenny Joseph a missionary who has lived here for over 50 years.