Ise Grand Shrine - Shrine Architecture

Shrine Architecture

The architectural style of the Ise shrine is known as shinmei-zukuri, characterized by extreme simplicity and antiquity: its basic principles date back to the Kofun era (250-538 C.E.). The shrine buildings use a special variant of this style called Yuitsu-shinmei-zukuri (唯一神明造?), which may not be used in the construction of any other shrine. The old shrines are dismantled and new ones built on an adjacent site to exacting specifications every 20 years at exorbitant expense, so that the buildings will be forever new and forever ancient and original. The present buildings, dating from 1993, are the 61st iteration to date and are scheduled for rebuilding in 2013.

The shrine at Naikū is constructed of Japanese cypress. Built on pillars set directly in the ground, the shrine building measures 10.9 by 5.5 meters and includes a raised floor, verandahs all the way around the building and a staircase leading to a single central doorway. The roof is made of thatched reed with ten billets (katsuogi) located on the ridge of the roof, the bargeboards of which project beyond the roof to form the distinctive forked finials (chigi) at the ends of the ridge. The roof ridge is supported by two free-standing columns called the munamochi-bashira. The katsuogi, chigi and munamochi-bashira are stylised forms of older storehouse building techniques that pre-date the introduction of Buddhist architecture in Japan.

The empty site beside the shrine building, the site where the previous shrine once stood and where the next will be built, is called the kodenchi. This area is strewn with large white pebbles and is left totally empty apart from the oi-ya, a small wooden hut containing a wooden pole a little over 2 metres in height called the shin-no-mihashira (sacred central pole). When a new shrine is built, it is built around the sacred central pole before the removal of the oi-ya, so that the central pole is never seen. The central pole of the old shrine will then have a new oi-ya erected so that the shin-no-mihashira also remains unseen.

"The erection of a single post in the center of a sacred area strewn with stones represents the form taken by Japanese places of worship in very ancient times; the shin-no-mihashira would thus be the survival of a symbolism from a very primitive symbolism to the present day."

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