What Is Ise Shrine?
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What Is Ise Shrine?

    Leaders of the Group of Seven countries have taken part in the first official event of the summit in Ise-Shima, central Japan, by visiting a centuries-old shrine there.

    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomed them at Ise shrine. It's dedicated to the sun goddess and the deity of agriculture and industry.

    It has attracted people from across Japan for centuries, including members of the Imperial family and government leaders.

    In Japan, Ise shrine is known as "Jingu," which literally means the palace of the gods.

    Officials from Ise Jingu say the shrine is about 2,000 years old. It's composed of 125 shrines, surrounded by deep green forests and rivers.

    Japanese people have long believed that deities exist everywhere. They place value in respecting and living in harmony with nature.

    The most sacred shrine in the precinct is where the goddess of the sun, Amaterasu-Omikami, is worshipped.

    "It's really, really nice," says one Brazilian tourist there. "I was very excited about it. I really love it."

    It may seem surprising that the main shrine behind the fences looks so new despite Jingu's long history.

    That's because of Shikinen Sengu, a ritual that dates back more than 1,300 years.

    Every 2 decades an identical replacement is built next to the existing building. The ritual is based on the hope that deities would rejuvenate their power by residing in new buildings.

    Near Ise Jingu, there is a town to welcome and accommodate the worshippers. People working in the town start each day by offering prayers toward Jingu. Everything there represents a different period.

    One area is a reproduction of what the town looked like back in 19th century. People can also enjoy traditional food, crafts and entertainment.

    Rice cakes topped with sweet bean paste are one of the best-known specialties in Ise. They've been around for more than 300 years.

    "We started to practice English once a month to prepare for the summit," says one local shop owner.

    News of the G7 summit is being linked to a spike in tourism. The prefecture saw one of the highest growth rates of foreign visitors in Japan last year.

    The town responded to the increase by making communication sheets in English, Korean and Chinese -- something people hope will continue to come in handy for years to come.

    "We have welcomed so many different people to Ise in its long history," says Yoriko Maeda, chairperson with the Ise Oharai Town Meeting. "We hope visitors from overseas enjoy something quaint of this old town and come back again."

    People in Ise-Shima hope the G7 summit will put their town on the map... and draw more visitors to this sacred place for a long time to come.