Ise Jingū, in English often referred to in singular form as the "Ise Grand Shrine", actually is an extensive complex of the most sacred shrines in Japan consisting of as many as 125 shrines centering around the naikū (内宮, "inner shrine"), which is dedicated to the Shintō sun goddess Amaterasu Ōmikami (天照大御神, "great honorable deity who enlightens the heavens") and the gekū (外宮, "outer shrine"), which is dedicated to Toyouke Ōmikami (豊受大御神, "great honorable deity who receives bountiful harvests"), the goddess of agriculture and industry. In Nihon Shoki (日本書紀, "The Chronicles of Japan"), Japan's oldest historiography, dating back to 720 AD, it is written that 2000 years ago Amaterasu Ōmikami descended from the heavens and selected Ise in present-day Mie Prefecture with its abundant and beautiful nature as her place of enshrinement.
Over 1500 festivals and rituals are being held throughout the year at Ise Jingū. For example, the ritual called higoto asa yū ōmike-sai (日別朝夕大御饌祭）, "offering repasts to the deities in the morning and evening every day", has been carried out continuously for more than 1500 years.
The largest ceremony held at Ise Jingū is called shikinen sengū (式年遷宮, "shrine relocation in ceremonial years"). Held every 20th year as a part of Shintō belief in a permanent renewal of nature, the main shrine hall (神殿, shinden) and the holy relics (神宝, jinpō or kamudakara) are completely reproduced to have the deity (神, kami) relocate to the neighboring property. Since the ceremony was first held in 690 AD, there have been some periods of interruption, but it has been continued for approximately 1300 years and will be held for the 62nd time in 2013.
The main shrine building within Ise Jingū has a simple and pure architectural style called yuiitsu shinmei-zukuri (唯一神明造, "unique style of the divine light", with shinmei also being a by-name of Amaterasu) which originated in the Yayoi Period (500 BC - 300 AD). In this unique architectural style, the buildings have their ground floors raised above actual ground level, similar to a granary. For the shikinen sengū, the shrine hall is reconstructed exactly in the same manner as the previous one, thus maintaining the original old form of the otherwise ever-new building. Furthermore, the old material replaced in the rebuilding process is sent to other shrines all over Japan for recycling, so there is no waste of material.
Among the many important things that the shrine teaches and passes on throughout time is not only the impressive craft and techniques shown with the sacred treasures, but also what they symbolize: the importance of the forests that nourish the lands and the oceans, and feelings of gratitude towards nature which passes down to us her blessings year after year.