East of the Kii Hantō mountain ranges, on the far side of the Kii Peninsula, a small knuckle of land sticks out into the ocean. Known as Shima Hantō (志摩半島), this peninsula has been designated a national park, partly for its natural beauty but also because it contains Japan’s spiritual heartland, Ise-jingū. Since the fourth century the Grand Shrine of Ise, on the edge of Ise town, has been venerated as the terrestrial home of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu, from whom it was once believed all Japanese emperors are descended. Beyond Ise it’s pearl country. The world-famous Mikimoto company started up in Toba when an enterprising restaurant owner discovered the art of cultivating pearls. Now there’s a whole island dedicated to his memory, including a surprisingly interesting museum. Most of today’s pearls are raised further east in Ago-wan, where hundreds of rafts are tethered in a beautiful, island-speckled bay.
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