Mie Prefecture is a rare diamond in the tourist-saturated central region of Japan. If you’re tired of fielding the mob in Kyoto, have had your fair share of waiting in line in Osaka, or don’t want to get bitten on the butt by aggressive deer in Nara, Mie presents the perfect escape from the travel crowds—and a unique opportunity to see a different side of Japan to the one in your guidebook.
With its mysterious misty forests, starry night skies and rolling mountains, the Higashi Kishu area of southern Mie is where you’ll find all of the best parts of the prefecture distilled in one compact and easy-to-visit area. Ever wanted to be “spirited away” or enter Princess Mononoke’s world? Mie is your gateway.
- How to get in and around central Japan and Mie Prefecture
- Things to do in Higashi-Kishu, Mie
- Example three-day itinerary for exploring Higashi Kishu, Mie
- What to eat in Mie
- When to go to Mie
- Where to stay in Higashi-Kishu, Mie
- Resources and guides for traveling in Mie
One of the quickest and fastest ways to get to central Japan is by air. Flying in, you’ll want to land at the Chubu Centrair International Airport, the aerial transport hub for central Japan which lies just outside of the populous city of Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture.
With 465 flights per week, the airport is home to a bustling network of comings and goings between Asia, Europe, and North America that covers more than 39 cities. There’s a decent amount of shops and restaurants right outside the arrival gate to keep its international passengers satisfied.
If you’re coming from Tokyo, a flight from Haneda Airport to Chubu Centrair International Airport costs ¥7,250 and takes about one hour. International flights direct from Detroit, Helsinki, Frankfurt, and Abu Dhabi mean that you can fly straight into the central region of Japan, too.
A fun way to access Mie (that many people don’t know about) is by crossing Ise Bay via high-speed ferry from the airport to Tsu Nagisamachi in the north of the prefecture. Called the Tsu-Airport Line, the trip only takes 40 minutes and costs ¥2,470 one-way.
Signs from the airport terminal will point you in the direction of the port, about a 10-minute walk from the terminal. This is a much better option than driving all the way around the water, and you’ll get to enjoy the breezy ocean views while you’re at it.
From Tsu Nagisamachi, you can take one of the frequent buses to Tsu Station in Tsu City where the local rail network connects you to Owase City, one of the main towns, along with Kumano City, in the Higashi Kishu area.
But far and away the best method to explore Higashi Kishu is to rent a car. There are several car rental shops at Tsu Nagisamachi. All you need is an international license and to remember to drive on the left! Our four-door Toyota cost around ¥20,000 for three days.
While there are many things you can do in Higashi Kishu and Mie, here’s some of the fun stuff we enjoyed and that you can see in the video.
Camp at Mikisato beach
Golden sand, towering mountains, starry skies, starry waters—you can enjoy Mikisato beach to the fullest, rain (just like we did) or shine. We camped at Misikato Campground which was essentially an area on the beach reserved for tents with a block of toilets. Apparently, it gets quite crowded in the summer, but the wet weather during our trip meant we had the place entirely to ourselves.
Mikisato Beach Campground
Go night kayaking
The starry skies of Mikisato beach can only be matched with a memorable tour to see the sea fireflies. Take a kayak out to the darkest parts of the bay, and witness the sea sparkle in a unique phenomenon known as bioluminescence. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to kayak, your tour guides will teach you. Also, be prepared to get really wet!
Mikisato Beach Night Kayaking
Hike the ancient pilgrim paths of the Kumano Kodo
Immerse yourself in history, tradition, and spirituality along the Kumano Kodo Iseji Route. Our knowledgeable local tour guides Matsuyo-san and Koji-san led us through fog-wrapped cypress trees, along slick stone walkways and across winding clear creeks all the way to the summit of the famous Magose Pass (also called Magose Toge), where they then entertained us with some local folk music.
The Magose Pass is arguably the most photogenic of the hiking trails along the network of Unesco-listed pilgrimage paths known as the Kumano Kodo, spanning Mie, Nara, and Wakayama prefectures. Around five kilometers, it’s a fairly easy hike but honestly, you’ll be too in awe of the stunning scenery to notice the time.
Scale an elephant’s back at Mt. Binshiyama
Ride on an elephant (OK, not literally) by taking a hike up Mt. Binshiyama, a popular trail known for its seriously Instagrammable photo spot close to the summit which is shaped just like the broad back of an elephant. The trail is located about two hours from the Magose Pass and boasts some epic views of Owase and the ocean beyond.
You can hike across to Mt. Binshiyama from the summit of the Magose Pass at Mt Tengura or start from the base trailhead next to Camp Inn Miyama, a campsite next to the Choshi River.
Camp Inn Miyama (access to Mt. Binshiyama)
Pray for love at Owase Shrine
Back down at sea level, you can visit Owase Shrine in the center of the town. The highlight of this shrine is hard to miss; Japan’s oldest “couple,” which is actually a pair of ancient trees. Tied together via traditional straw rope, these two lovers, despite storms, earthquakes and the passing of time, stand tall and strong and are locally symbolic of the power of love.
Experience a traditional ryokan stay
In neighboring Kumano City, secluded on a forested mountain slope, Iruka Onsen Hotel Seiryuusou is a traditional Japanese ryokan that houses one of the area’s finest hot springs, complete with indoor and outdoor onsen baths, an elaborate meal service, tatami-fitted traditional hotel rooms (yes, with AC), gift shops and more spectacular views.
Iruka Onsen Hotel Seiryuusou
Mountain bike through a haunted tunnel
Iruka Onsen offers a short but super fun mountain biking experience where you speed through a tunnel on a moving rail track. Say hello to the ghost receptionist along the way—she’s pretty friendly. It’s definitely something that you can’t do anywhere else! Though the tour only takes ten minutes, it was probably one of the most unusual things I’ve done in Japan so far.
Cruise to an ancient rock face
Make unforgettable memories on the Tategasaki Sightseeing Boat from Matsuzaki Port. Discover Mie’s seaside history, ancient cliff sides, and mysterious caves all while sailing on crystal clear waters. The looming Tategasaki rock face, 80 meters tall and 550 meters all the way around, is an awesome sight to behold up close.
Tategasaki Sightseeing Boat
Visit Japan’s oldest shrine
Visit the mother of Japan herself, Izanami, at the World Heritage site of Hana-no-iwaya, believed to be the grave of the goddess of creation by Kumano’s residents. Unlike a lot of the shrines you might see in Japan, Hana-no-iwaya has no temple or building to house its Shinto god. Rather, a go-shintai or sacred stone, standing 45 meters high, is where the goddess resides.
During the “Otsunakake Shinji (Rope Changing Ritual),” the locals tie a rope to the go-shintai and mimic pulling it out to sea. Time your trip right around October or February to take part in this sacred festival.
Explore a lion rock and a demon’s castle
Also ranked as a World Heritage Site are Shishi Iwa (“Lion Rock”) and Oniga-jo (Demon’s Castle), just around the corner from Hana-no-iwaya. Both are impressive rock formations that resemble their respective namesakes, though Shishi Iwa looked more like an eagle to me. Since we also saw Oniga-jo from the Tategasaki Sightseeing Boat cruise it was cool to get a different perspective from on top of the rock. There are a few shops and cafes nearby, too.
Here’s an example of a three-day itinerary that will tick off most of the area’s highlights, based on our own trip that we took in the video.
Arrive at Chubu Centrair International Airport and take the high-speed ferry across the bay to Tsu Nagisamachi. Here you can rent a car, and head over to Owase for your first day’s adventures. It’s about a three-hour drive from Tsu to Owase. Get lunch at Ototo, a seafood market in the city which stocks some of the freshest fish in the country! Spend the second half of the day at Mikisato beach, setting up camp, checking out the driftwood sculptures, and kayaking with the sea fireflies at night.
Make your way to nearby Owase station, where you’ll meet your tour guides Matsuyo-san and Koji-san. They’ll guide you on the Magose Pass, up Mt. Binshiyama, and back down to Owase Shrine. Drive across to Iruka Onsen Hotel Seiryuusou in Kumano City where you can enjoy the baths, dinner, and hospitality. You’ll get to choose your times for meals and the mountain bike tour the next day.
After breakfast, head out for the short mountain bike tunnel tour. Then you’ll move out to Matsuzaki Port for the sightseeing boat tour of Tategasaki and the coastline. Lastly, drive back over to Kumano’s southern shores and visit the World Heritage sites including Hana-no-iwaya, Shishi Iwa and Oniga-jo.
The Higashi Kishu area in Mie is home to a ton of specialty foods to try.
One of the finest cuts of tuna that you can get in Japan arrives fresh from the shores of Mie daily. Ototo (mentioned above) has a cafeteria where you can sample sashimi, sushi and more.
A mountain peach juice. Sweet, tarty, and unique to the area.
Higashi Kishu boasts some of the freshest and sweetest mikan oranges in Japan.
Said to be rice from the goddess Izanami herself, mix this in with your regular white rice for nourishment between all your outdoor adventures!
When heading into any nature-focused area in Japan, the sunshine and warm weather is usually the time anyone would like to go.
However, for this trip, one of the best times to experience it is actually during the rainy season from June to mid-July. The mists of Mie really bring an other-worldly feeling to being outside in Japanese nature—the three days felt like being in a real-life anime.
Of course, rainy weather isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, so coming here between late winter to spring (December to April) is also recommended as a good time to visit. More activities open up like the hike up Mt. Binshiyama, and the Tategasaki Sightseeing Boat Tour is also best enjoyed with calm waters and sunshine.
Avoid peak summer if you’re keen on hiking the Kumano Kodo Iseji Route as the climate is generally too humid and the bugs are on the hunt for blood.
Camp right on the beach and sleep with the sound of the ocean at your tent door. You’ll need to pay the fee at the carpark located next to the beach.
An atmospheric and authentic option for a bit of R and R between outdoor activities.
Another nice ryokan option right along the sea.
A decent business hotel for budget-conscious travelers.
Those looking for a luxury experience should choose this popular resort complex which has its own restaurants and spa, and also organizes hiking tours.
For more information on traveling in the Higashi Kishu area, check this travel guide from Mie Prefecture.
Local guides are available. Check this website or ask at a tourist information center in the area to be referred. You can also message Matsuyo-san via Instagram @shiba.rinrin and she’ll either guide you or connect you with Koji-san or another local guide who can speak English.
Find out more about the Chubu Centrair International Airport at their official website.