Mie

Despite having a bit of a reputation as a backwater, Mie is fairly prosperous, stands in the middle of Japan (and always has – the ancient Tokaido traverses part of it) and is great place to travel as it has maintained many of its traditions, a vast swathe of nature, and has many sites to visit that reflect the rich history of the region. It is easy to get to, easy to move around, has great mountain areas and nice beaches – so why apart from the Grand Shrines of Ise is Mie such a secret to foreign visitors?

It’s a good question, and probably easily answered by the absence of a shinkansen line. Most tourists coming to Japan are visiting for 3 weeks or less, and miss the interesting destinations in Mie in their rush to cover Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima – and if you are interested in seeing a bit of tradition without a horde of tourists stomping in your footsteps then hopefully the situation will stay that way a little longer.

If you wanted to sum up Mie, it would “mountains and sea”. From the peaks of Gozaisho-dake to the white sands of Goza Shirahama, one of Mie’s greatest attractions is a beautiful natural heritage. Combine nature with history and your schedule fills quickly. There are of course distractions – you can ride the world’s highest roller coaster in the spectacular Nagashima Spa-land amusement park, enjoy the thrills and speed at the Suzuka Racing Circuit, or disappear into walls or extract swords from under floorboards with a deft flick of the foot in a genuine Ninja residence to name a few.

It is nature and the mild climate though that sets the scene. The surf beaches, quiet villages such as Goza (as beautiful as Yumigahama in Shizuoka), the Mikimoto Pearl beds in Toba and throughout Ago Bay, the spectacular mountain gorges such as Dorokyo (which is actually just inside Wakayama Prefecture but best accessed via Mie) and isolated mountain onsen hideaways are the true gems of Mie. Dining can be also be one of the many pleasures enjoyed – as the seafood in Mie (particularly in the central and southern areas) is simply superb. The small but historic city of Matsusaka offers many surprises, including a row of nineteen houses below the castle walls from the Edo Period (1603-1868), including some that are still occupied by the descendants of their original samurai owners, as well as Matsusaka Gyu – the most famous beef in Japan (don’t be caught extolling the merits of say Kobe beef or Omi beef when in Matsusaka!).

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