The Seaside Village on the Ago Bay
Shima is a town in the south of the Ise peninsula, in Mie Prefecture, Japan. Its 2 bays, Ago and Matoya, form wonderfully indented rocky coastlines on the Pacific Ocean. The port city is a choice destination for a rural gateway on the seaside.
Shima City spreads on the southern part of the touristic Ise-Shima Peninsula, at the eastern end of Mie Prefecture. It offers a more intimate and pastoral landscape than the large Shinto pavilions of Ise Jingu Grand Shrine, between the sea and the mountain, in the heart of Ise-Shima National Park. As for local food, the destination is famous for oysters and fresh shellfish and seafood, straight from the water. The marinated fish donburi called tekone sushi 🍣 (てこね寿司) is one of the delicious specialties of Ise-Shima.
The city is served by several stations on the Kintetsu Railway Shima Line and from there can be easily explored by car 🚙 or bicycle on the prefecture’s roads. The places to visit are usually providing a parking and distances between sites are short, on average only a few kilometers.
⛩️ Shinto spirituality in the heart of the National Park
Up in the mountains, Yokoyama Observatory is often the first view on Shima and its wonderful rias coastline with dozen of indented islands spreading in the Ago Bay. On a clear weather day, the panorama, encompassing both the forest and the sea, extends up to the Pacific coast. Many hotel 🏨 resorts also offer ideal destinations for a comfortable getaway in the beautiful nature.
Then, going north into the forest, you can discover spiritual sites such as:
- Ama-no-Iwato (天の岩戸 / 恵利原の水穴), a small shrine on the mountain side and concealed by tall trees. Its name literally means "Heaven’s rock cave" and the legend has it that Amaterasu cloistered herself here after quarreling with her brother Susanoo. A river crosses the site in a melodious stream;
- Omu-iwa (おうむ石) gives a nice lookout on the heights of Shima, and especially its rice paddies. The site is home to an original megalithic stone that some have heard speaking;
- Aonominesan Shofuku-ji (青峯山正福寺), is a very quiet temple with an admirable raw wood architecture and ornaments carved at the front of the buildings; and,
- Izawanomiya (皇大神宮別宮 伊雜宮), a little sacred enclosure affiliated to Naiku Inner Shrine (Kotai-jingu). Its main pavilion was built in the traditional shinmei-zukuri architectural style.
On the shore of the Pacific Ocean, Shima City also boasts 2 bays providing ideal locations for outdoor activities. Therefore, weather condition is an important factor to make the most of the visits. Spring 🌸, summer and autumn 🍁 are the best seasons to travel in the southern part of the Ise-Shima peninsula.
🎢 Attractions in Matoya Bay
Matoya Bay is accessible from Toba City, and is popular among local tourists for its Spanish-themed park Parque España - Shima Spain Village (志摩スペイン村). Mie Prefecture and the province of Valencia in Spain have indeed a sister provinces relationship.
Therefore, European visitors may prefer visiting Anorisaki Lighthouse, whose modern white concrete building offers a breathtaking view on the coastline and the seaside. Take a short break there to observe the waves battling the rocks.
A little bit further south, you can enjoy nice walks on the sand of the large beaches of Koushirahama and Ago-no-matsubara, while watching surfers riding the waves. It is also possible to swim in summer.
🏞️ Panoramas on the Ago Bay
Continue along the Pacific coastline to another small white lighthouse, on Cape Daio, at the south-eastern end of Shima. Its observatory is also a museum where visitors can experiment with the lighthouse’s light. In the surroundings you will find:
- Nakiri-jinja shrine (波切神社) interesting for its beautiful blooming cherry trees in the beginning of spring and its unusually shaped round stone lanterns, rather than for its main pavilion built in concrete; and,
- Daiji-ji temple(大慈寺) renowned in the area for its flowery grounds, especially in June when its 1,500 hydrangeas are in bloom.
Back in the heart of the Ago Bay, look for the natural viewpoint called Nishiyama-bojo-ga-oka (西山慕情ヶ丘). While it is hard to find even with Google Maps, it is famous among the locals for its panoramic view on the Ago Bay at sunset. Alternatively, the observatory of Tomoyama Park is more easily accessible and also has a camping ground opened in summer.
The tour of Shima ends on the Route 260 connecting the south of the Ago Bay. The indented coastline is dotted by several bridges, especially the Pearl Bridge, offering bird’s eyes views on the aquatic farms below, and the transparent blue water of the Bay.
At the end of the stretch of land, the beautiful white sand beach 🏖 Goza-Shirahama appears, with shops only open in summer. Nearby, around a small fishing port, we recommend to stop at Ishibotoke shiobotoke sekibutsu shrine (石仏 (潮仏)) whose grounds is partially underwater at high tide. Prayers are made to Shiobotoke, the tides’ Buddha, offering protection against women’s ailments, in a traditional landscape with a torii ⛩️ gate standing on a rock by the water.
Make a last stop at Tsumekiri fudoson temple (爪切不動尊) to taste its mystical ambiance fostered by its quietness and location on the mountainside, under the trees. The raw wood architecture and the many Jizo stone statues wonderfully blend in the natural landscape. The main hall worships an image of Fudo Myoo that was supposedly made by monk Kukai, also named Kobo Daishi (774 - 835).
In addition to the scenic and quiet views around the bays of Ago and Matoya, Shima City offers invigorating and marvelous panoramas on the Pacific coast. We highly recommend visiting and climbing the lighthouses standing at the ends of the peninsula. The temples and shrines provide a soothing feeling thanks to their quietness and the rustic simplicity of their architecture, in harmony with the surrounding nature.