On the ninja trail in Ise Shima

 Meoto Iwa (the wedded rocks) in Futami, Ise Shima

This post is all about Mie, Mie, Mie. Japan’s Mie Prefecture that is. Or, more specifically, the pretty bayside region of Ise-Shima. Home to Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine, Ise-Shima isn’t as big on the international tourist radar as it is with locals in search of spa retreats, pearls, and enlightenment. But the Eats Worlds are seeking something else entirely… ninja.

Exploring somewhere off the regular tourist map is a great way to get in touch with local culture and we often find that the find the best way to get a feel for a place is to get lost in it. Luckily we were lost the minute we alighted our train in Ise-Shima’s pretty seaside town of Toba and were soon sucked into a vortex of local loveliness thanks, in no small part, to Super Toba Woman and Captain Cackle.

There is service and then there is the nicest person on earth, Super Toba Woman (the kind lady at the tiny Tobashi-Ekimae Tourist Information Office). Not only does she help us get our bearings, our shite together and our transport organised, she does it quickly and with the utmost joy. She also briefs us on all the amazing things we could do in Ise, while we confuse her with our antipodean weirdness.

“Would you like to go to Toba Aquarium, home to over 850 creatures, ranging from dugongs, manatees and jellyfish to poison arrow frogs?”
“Do you want to go to the pearl museum and sea the ama pearl divers?”
Not really.
“A cruise to pretty Iruka Jima, Dolphin Island?”
“Explore Ise Shima National Park?”
Not so much.
“What about making the pilgrimage to Ise Jinga?”
Maybe later.
“Then what are you here for?”
Ninjas. Oh, and lunch.

With a knowing nod she marks up a map for us to infiltrate all the ninja strongholds in the area – and given that nearby Iga-no-Sato is the birthplace of the ninja, there are many – then with incredible stealth has us quickly seated and diving head first into bowls of steaming Ise Udon at one of her favourite local nosheries. I love her.

Sugarpuff is hooked on ise udon - Ise Shima with kids

I also love Ise Udon, as does Sugarpuff who is hooked on the heavenly handmade ropes of chewy perfection. Covered in a black broth made from concentrated soy sauce and sweet Japanese cooking sake and topped with dancing flakes of fragrant bonito, they are a revelation.

Clam noodle soup at Toba

The clam noodle soup ain’t bad either. But I digress.

Bellies full we head to the bus stop and our first encounter with Captain Cackle, the hotel bus driver. An elderly gentleman with not a word of English, he spends the next hour pointing and laughing uproariously at the hilarious Aussies. Whether he was being nice or not, we’ll never know but it was strangely endearing and the kids loved him. The hotel? Not so much. The most strangely soulless hotel I’ve ever stayed in, it shall remain nameless.

But the view is magnificent.

sunset in Toba, Mie Prefecture, Japan

And it does provide a place to rest our heads so we can prepare ourselves for our mission to Azuchi Momoyama Bunka Mura, otherwise known as Edo Wonderland.

Azuchi Momoyama Bunka Mura (Edo Wonderland) in Ise

A theme park built like an ancient castle town, Edo Wonderland looks like a movie set with its shrine, temple and old houses under the shadow of a full-size replica of the splendiferous Azuchi Castle.

Azuchi Momoyama Bunka Mura's full-size replica of Azuchi Castle

It’s also chock full of ninja. Who, I might add, are making a right arse out of the whole hiding business.

Ninja at Azuchi Momoyama Bunka Mura (Edo Wonderland) in Ise

The forerunners to today’s SAS, Spetznaz, Green Berets and Batman, the highly trained ninja dealt in infiltration, espionage, intelligence gathering and assassination. But nothing could have prepared these ninjas for the onslaught of Raffles who, though trained in none of the above, quickly defeats this lot with wanton ridiculousness and they fall about laughing at his unique and spectacularly unco-ordinated dance fighting techniques.

The samurai seem equally amused.

Samurai at edo wonderland ise

But Raffles, a child so completely fixated that he attempts to create DIY Samurai armour from paper plates and egg cartons, sleeps in a ninja uniform in his “dojo”, and has his heart set on a career as a ninja, is so overjoyed to be with his brethren that he’s oblivious to their mirth.

And they seem equally taken with him.

Azuchi Momoyama Bunka Mura (Edo Wonderland) in Ise

Edo Wonderland is not a theme park with roller coasters and thrill rides – handy because we’re a bunch of chicken-shits when it comes to those – it’s more like an old-school Japanese Fight Club. Full of obstacle courses, trick mazes, ninja labyrinths with secret passages, revolving doors and traps, haunted fortresses, and archery and throwing star ranges, Raffles is in ninja heaven.

Raffles makes his way down secret passages at Azuchi Momoyama Bunka Mura

Sugarpuff too gets into the warrior spirit, though is more taken with playing the traditional teiko drums than fighting.

Sugarpuff feels the beat at Edo Wonderland ISe

Both the kids get up to speed on the weapons and trickery used by those stealthy Edo period tricksters in a ninja museum, go through their paces in a training dojo, explore the fortified gates and are in raptures over an action-charged live ninja show.

Azuchi Momoyama Bunka Mura (Edo Wonderland) in Ise

They’re having such a great time that getting them to leave proves a little problematic! But leave we do… though armed to the hilt with plastic katanas, nun-chucks and shuriken.

On our return to Toba we discover that gorgeous Ise is also the home of Ise ebi, Matoya kaki and Anori fugu. No, they’re not warrior clans, they are in fact seafood. And they are bloody good.

Ise ebi is local spiny lobster and nothing short of sublime. Matoya kaki is the name of the enormous and ridiculously tasty oysters that grow in the nutrient-rich waters of Ise Bay.

Ise ebi (spiny lobster) and Matoya kaki (oysters) in Toba

And anori fugu is a poisonous blowfish, which, if prepared incorrectly, can leave you a little bit dead. With ninja like stealth, we pass on the latter.

Beyond the ninja, we decide to soak up some of Ise’s other drawcards, the biggest of which is Ise Jingu, an ancient Shinto shrine considered to be Japan’s religious and spiritual centre. But we were more enamoured with the smaller Meoto Iwa (the wedded rocks) in Futami.

Meoto Iwa (the wedded rocks) in Futami.

The two rocks quietly jut stoically from the sea in front of Okitama Jinja, a shrine dedicated to Miketsu the goddess of food (a fact which may have also played a small part in our affection).

Tied in eternal embrace by a shimenawa rope, the sacred rocks represent Izanagi and Izanami, the married deities of Shinto legend who created Japan. It’s also known for its many, many frogs.

stone frog at Meoto Iwa (the wedded rocks) in Futami.

Legend has it that in ancient times, a frog was offered to calm the soul of a big snake that lived in Futami Bay. With respect, if I were he, I’d have a word with Miketsu and order in some noodles next time.

Linking up with the utmost stealth to Essentially Jess for IBOT

18 Comments on On the ninja trail in Ise Shima

      July 5, 2015 at 9:10 pm (9 years ago)

      It really was beautiful, Em

  1. chantel888
    June 30, 2015 at 3:51 pm (9 years ago)

    My husband used to practice Ninjakai, so both he and my 5 yo are obsessed with all things Ninja – they would love this place!!! The shots are gorgeous.

    Hello from #teamIBOT

      July 5, 2015 at 9:11 pm (9 years ago)

      Thanks. I think your ninja lovers would definitely enjoy it!

  2. Vicki @ Boiled Eggs & Soldiers
    June 30, 2015 at 7:36 pm (9 years ago)

    Thank you for this fabulous journey through Ninja world – your son looks to be having THE BEST time. Great photo’s and I loved learning about a part of the world I’ve never been too. Made me hungry for those noodles too.

      July 5, 2015 at 9:11 pm (9 years ago)

      He had an absolute ball Vicki, glad to share it with you.

  3. hugzillablog
    June 30, 2015 at 9:14 pm (9 years ago)

    Just incredible. The whole country just looks like one big theme park. Or postcard. What a freaking cool place.

      July 5, 2015 at 9:09 pm (9 years ago)

      Completely freaking cool. I want to go back.

  4. Ruth
    July 2, 2015 at 2:29 pm (9 years ago)

    This place is amazing! And the Tori Gates, oh, the Tori Gates. I have always had a thing for them. But, it is not only the place. It looks like you guys experienced th eplace to the fullest.

      July 5, 2015 at 9:14 pm (9 years ago)

      We had the most amazing time and made the most of every second Ruth

  5. Sally@Toddlers on Tour
    July 3, 2015 at 9:56 am (9 years ago)

    What young man wouldn’t love hanging with the Ninjas my Mr 7 would love it too. A perfect excursion to take kids on.

      July 5, 2015 at 9:12 pm (9 years ago)

      Totally Sally

  6. Malinda (@MBPaperPackages)
    July 4, 2015 at 7:48 pm (9 years ago)

    Absolute Ninja heaven! And say what? There is a food goddess – I need to know more!!!
    Thanks for joining in #wednesdaywanderlust this week

      July 5, 2015 at 9:13 pm (9 years ago)

      I know right? If I’d known there was a food Goddess before this I’d have been setting up my own shrine! 😉

  7. mamagrace71
    July 5, 2015 at 2:39 pm (9 years ago)

    How cool!!! I’ve been to Mie prefecture but not to Ise Shima. Ah, to be a Ninja for a day!! And that udon! YUMMO!

      July 5, 2015 at 9:12 pm (9 years ago)

      It’s a gorgeous part of the world, huh? I can only imagine how pretty the rest of Mie is. I wish we’d had more than a few days.

      July 7, 2015 at 12:26 am (9 years ago)

      Thanks Nicole. It really was a wow adventure.


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Hey, I’m Aleney! A mum, award-winning travel writer, magazine editor and gallivanting glutton. He’s Raff, the “boy” in boyeatsworld, and a fearless foodie, adventurer and eco-warrior. Along with his all-singing, all-dancing, all-adventurous sister, Sugarpuff, we’re exploring the world’s colour, culture and cuisine on a food safari for the junior set.

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